- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2005

D.C. Public Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey yesterday said he plans an internal review of whether the school system has reported incorrect truancy rates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“I just ask for the time I need to go in and dig deeply into the matter,” Mr. Janey said yesterday during a hearing by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation.

The Washington Times yesterday reported that the school system’s 2003-04 truancy statistics do not reflect its count of the students in city schools. Under federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements, the school system reported that it had 20,845 chronic truants and a 23.46 percent overall truancy rate last year.

If true, that would mean there were 88,853 students in D.C. schools last year. But the school system Web site (www.k12.dc.us/dcps/home.html) reports a total enrollment of 65,099 students during the 2003-04 school year.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, twice asked Mr. Janey whether he had any confidence in the system’s data, given increasing criticism of the information. Several principals and teachers have said the data have unfairly portrayed some schools as having a rampant truancy problem.

Mr. Janey said he was not ready to say whether the statistics are faulty. In an interview after the hearing, he said he would form a panel to examine the accuracy of the statistics.

“We’re going to look into it, and we’re going to put a team together,” he told The Times.

Board of Education member Carolyn Graham, who attended the hearing, said she was surprised to learn about the inconsistencies in the statistics.

She singled out Diane E. Powell, director of student intervention for D.C. public schools, for “an excellent job in gathering, consolidating and coalescing the [truancy] data.”

However, Miss Graham said school officials would take steps to correct the information if it is wrong.

“If the data is bad … then we’ve got to look at each of the schools that provided the information,” she said. “I think that is where we would go next.”

As reported under No Child Left Behind, the school system reported that nearly one in four students was truant last year, with some schools’ having truancy rates as high as 60 percent.

Miss Powell said in a previous interview that the high truancy rates largely reflected an “aggressive approach” to finding out which schools had the most pressing truancy problem. But she said that in some cases, it was possible that students had been counted truant more than once.

Meanwhile, questions surfaced yesterday about the reliability of financial data that the District has submitted to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

Mary M. Levy of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs testified that she has noted inconsistencies in financial data reported to the federal government.

For example, statistics show that the D.C. public school system and the city’s charter schools took in $945 million in total revenue in the 2001-02 school year, the most recent school year for which federal data were available.

Other data sent to the federal government show the public school system alone — not including charter schools — took in $997 million in total revenue during the same period, Miss Levy said.

“This is clearly impossible,” she said.

A combination of factors likely has contributed to the problem, Miss Levy said, noting that the responsibility to collect, analyze and distribute data is shared across city and school agencies.

“In other words, in typical District fashion, responsibility is fragmented, and accurate and consistent fiscal data reporting is no one’s responsibility,” she said.

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