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Dropout records were shredded 2003

Posted by mrtroymason 
Dropout records were shredded 2003
August 29, 2011 02:08PM
As investigators closed in on who they thought was changing dropout records at Sharpstown High School, an administrator there shredded more than 100 boxes of student records, a report shows.

A school district investigator's report released Monday is the latest in a pile of documents showing how the Houston Independent School District either mishandled, lost or hid paperwork for thousands of students who may have been dropouts.

That shredding incident was the second time this academic year student records disappeared at the school, the only one HISD has determined deliberately faked data to show a low dropout rate.

The report details how easily students' paperwork can get lost in an office where old boxes are stacked by the dozens, job responsibilities change hands without a principal's direction and no one inspects questionable work until investigators knock at the door.

When principals and assistants had to explain to an investigator why records were missing and why 30 student reports had been altered, they blamed computer network specialist Kenneth Cuadra for faking them and later changing them back.

Cuadra, a non-contract employee, could be reprimanded or fired from the school. His attorney delayed a hearing Monday so he could review new evidence presented against Cuadra. The computer clerk was scheduled for another hearing Wednesday.

HISD said in a news release it could not comment on the "personnel issue."
The inch-thick report has administrators pointing fingers at each other and raises as many questions as it answers, such as where are the original student files, and if Principal Carol Wichmann knew of the changed reports in November, why didn't she investigate before a reporter asked questions.

The picture of the Sharpstown front office painted in investigator Billy Aldrich's report gives a fuller view of the administrative ineptitude a series of audits have shown exists on dozens of HISD campuses. The Texas Education Agency has proposed reducing the district's acceptable rating to unacceptable because of such poor recordkeeping. An accounting firm has classified 11 high schools and two middle schools as high risk for making mistakes.

In the report released Monday from HISD's Professional Standards Department, Associate Principal Marmion Dambrino said that in March, Assistant Principal Robert Kimball ordered the shredding of 122 boxes that may have contained the data needed to determine whether students were dropouts.
Kimball said those boxes contained records from the 1980s. The 1992-2002 records were lost along with many other records when construction crews moved items around in summer, he said.

Either way, cumulative files -- records that follow a student from elementary school through graduation -- are lost.
Cuadra told investigators thatWichmann told him to delete dropout records. When he refused, she coerced him into showing a zero dropout rate, he told Aldrich. Sharpstown's dropout figures declined because "they kept coding it until they got it," Cuadra said.

The computer specialist said Wichmann retaliated because he would not go along with filing a fraudulent report.
The report said it was not Cuadra's job to handle dropouts, although he had computer access to change records,and the job of counting and reporting dropouts seemed to go from one employee to another.

Merrie Bonnette, a principal intern, said she, Wichmann, Dambrino and Assistant Principal Jane Lozano were searching Cuadra's office for documents after a reporter filed an open records request for e-mails between Sharpstown office workers. They didn't find e-mails, she said, but found incriminating printouts that suggest Cuadra altered the records on his computer.

Starting in October and going into February, more and more administrators at Sharpstown learned of questionable dropout numbers, according to testimony from the principal and assistants. They did nothing in October or November. They started looking for data to support the shifting numbers in December as they prepared for an external audit that would be sent to TEA. West District Superintendent Anne Patterson got involved in February when she learned a reporter was investigating.

The TEA audit released last week showed that the kind of incorrect and missing data found at Sharpstown can be found throughout the district. Already, HISD has begun changing its procedures to give a more accurate picture. Performance pay will be more closely tied to accurate reporting, and new employees will receive training for posting student data.

Assistant Principal Kimball and others have called for wider investigations of HISD's dropout reporting. Kimball, who asked for the TEA investigation, also has sent requests to the Harris County district attorney's office. A group of Hispanic businessmen on Monday said HISD should expand its investigation to other schools.
District officials have said their problem mostly is one of careless recordkeeping and that the nearly 3,000 undercounted potential dropouts uncovered by TEA are shameful but not surprising for a district with 212,000 students.

The TEA's sampling included only 14 high schools and two middle schools. It recommended lowering the ratings of all but one of those. TEA initially said it would lower to unacceptable the ratings of 12 high schools and two middle schools. HISD on Monday said the rating for Clifton Middle School also was lowered. HISD's other 22 high schools and 47 middle schools were not audited.

Already, a data clerk at Westside High has been demoted, reportedly for her poor work with dropout reporting.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 08/29/2011 03:47PM by mrtroymason.
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