Report No. 2011-66
Findings in the audit of St. Louis Public School District, Patrick Henry Downtown Academy, Enrollment and Attendance Recording and Reporting
The State Auditor's office received substantial, credible information alleging school attendance and enrollment data was being falsified at Patrick Henry Downtown Academy (Henry Elementary). Because of the severity of the allegations and the risk that evidence would be destroyed, the State Auditor sent the rapid response team to gather evidence and ensure its preservation. The team collected documentary evidence, conducted interviews, and took the sworn testimony of four school/district employees.
From the evidence collected, it appears enrollment and attendance data was being manipulated, which overstated attendance. This may have helped the school meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and possibly resulted in additional federal funding. Because of weaknesses in the school's computer system, the State Auditor's office was not able to determine who was responsible for the data manipulation, but one employee testified, under oath, that Principal Esperanza Veal instructed her to manipulate the data.
The State Auditor's office conducted several different tests and found numerous discrepancies between manual attendance records (completed by teachers) and the official attendance data entered into the computerized Student Information System (SIS) by office personnel. Each time, the net effect of these discrepancies inflated attendance, which supports the testimony that attendance and enrollment data was intentionally manipulated.
Henry Elementary has shown significant unexplained increases in attendance, increasing over 12 percent from 2007 to 2010, and it had the district's highest elementary school attendance percentage (97.3 percent) in 2010. In addition, withdrawn students were not timely withdrawn in the SIS. Since teachers do not always mark withdrawn students absent on the manual attendance forms, withdrawn students could be shown as present in the SIS. Some withdrawn students were also counted in membership and enrollment counts, which affected federal funding.
Prior to 2011, the school did not record out-of-school suspensions in the SIS, therefore some students on out-of-school suspension were counted as present. Also, according to sworn testimony, during fiscal year 2010, the Principal told a front office employee to "clean up" attendance by identifying all students with five or more absences in the year and changing each of those absences to tardies in the SIS. The State Auditor's office confirmed for fiscal year 2010, there was a significant decrease in absences and a corresponding increase in tardies.
District-wide System Controls
The SIS does not adequately limit or electronically track when or by whom changes are made in the system, leaving the data subject to unauthorized or erroneous changes.
District policy requires each teacher to enter attendance data directly into the SIS each day. At Henry Elementary, however, teachers were required to complete manual attendance forms, and a member of the office staff entered the data into the SIS. According to sworn testimony, Principal Veal directed changes be made to the data after it was entered into the SIS, without documentation to support the changes, and without teacher approval of the changes.
Henry Elementary did not document late arrivals or early departures, although district policy requires they be documented to track the total minutes a student is present each day, which affects attendance percentages.
District policy allows elementary students to be withdrawn by the principal or school official only in certain circumstances. For the 3 years ended June 30, 2011, we found 40 students withdrawn from Henry Elementary and re-enrolled in less than 3 weeks. A review of 11 of these students found 3 did not appear to be withdrawn for reasons allowed by district policy. One of these students was withdrawn due to an illness lasting only about 10 days, but policy only allows a student to be withdrawn due to extended illness if it is expected to last 3 weeks or longer and there is no expectation the student will recover in time to complete the semester. Withdrawing students for short-term absences inflates attendance percentages, because withdrawn students are not counted as absent during the time they are listed as withdrawn.
Because of the nature of this rapid response audit, no overall rating is provided.
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 (Federal Stimulus)