Dept. of Education Reacts to Thompson’s Audit

A spokesman for the Department of Education sent out a response to Bill Thompson’s audit.

The main thrust of the response is that Thompson’s audit relies too heavily on something called the High School Scheduling and Transcript system (HSST), which the city administration says “is a relatively new system that many schools had not even begun using in 2007, the year he focuses on in his audit.”

HSST also was imprecise in its ability to classify some classes, the spokesman says, giving the appearance that students got multiple credits for passing the same course, which was one of Thompson’s main findings.

Anyway, here’s the response the D.O.E. sent out, which includes Thompson’s charges.

Charge: “The permanent records of one out of every 10 graduated students sampled did not indicate that graduation requirements had been met.”

Response: The audit report directly contradicts this charge. The first page of the audit report says that “the documentation provided for all but two of the students appears to support the graduation status of those students.” In other words, the Comptroller found that 99 percent of the students whose records he examined were properly classified as graduates or discharges. He also wrongly rejected the evidence the DOE provided in support of the remaining 1 percent (addendum, p.7).

Charge: “Schools routinely awarded students multiple credits for passing the same course two or more times.”

Response (addendum, p. 17): The Comptroller bases this charge on information in the DOE’s High School Scheduling and Transcripts system (HSST). He incorrectly assumes that HSST is the repository “of record” for determining whether students have met graduation requirements. In fact, the state makes each students’ paper, school-based cumulative achievement file the repository of record for this purpose. HSST is a relatively new system that many schools had not even begun using in 2007, the year he focuses on in his audit.

These students did not actually take the same class more than once. Almost all the students he believes received multiple credits for the same course attended schools that didn’t have course codes to distinguish among different classes in HSST. Most of these courses were in classes like physical education or band, which students frequently take in more than one year.

Charge: Many official grade changes occurred just before or even after students graduated – and some schools circumvented the approval process for grade changes.

Response (addendum, p 20): Here again, the Comptroller mistakes HSST for students’ permanent records. Many schools update HSST at the end of the semester, long after students’ permanent records have been updated. Additionally, one would expect a large number of updates to occur close to the time of graduation as schools review students’ records and identify errors. In some cases, schools might not be able to catch up on data entry until after graduation. All of these practices reflect acceptable school policies given the reality of day-to-day life for students and administrators. The Comptroller’s implications that these changes are improper are baseless and do not reflect the reality of schools’ individual record keeping practices.