NEW YORK - New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. issued an audit Sept. 19 finding that the Department of Education is not effectively ensuring that all incidents – many violent and disruptive – in its high schools are being properly recorded and reported to the State.
Auditors determined that many incidents were not properly entered into an on-line data reporting system. For 10 schools that were sampled, 414 – or 21 percent – of 1,996 sampled incidents identified were not reported. Of the 1,996, 1,247 – or 62 percent – were deemed “serious” and 174 – or 14 percent – were not reported.
“The flawed reporting makes it difficult for parents, the public, and government officials to honestly assess whether a school is safe,” Thompson said. “Without more effective controls, the Department of Education cannot ensure that all incidents – many violent in nature – are being properly reported in compliance with the law.”
Under State Education Law, all school districts are required to annually report to the State Education Department (SED) all violent and disruptive incidents occurring on school grounds. SED then posts the data on its Web site in its annual “Violent and Disruptive Incident Report” (VADIR). In New York City, school administrators must enter data into the On-line Occurrence Reporting System (OORS) so DOE can relay the information to the State.
Thompson’s audit analyzed data supplied by 10 sampled high schools - each with more than 1,000 students - for the 2004-2005 academic year (September 2004 to June 2005). The high schools were spread out across all boroughs. The audit can be viewed at www.comptroller.nyc.gov. An unrelated audit issued earlier this week by the New York State Comptroller’s Office did not look at New York City schools.
Auditors compared a total of 1,996 unique incidents, including: 189 from school disciplinary records, 706 in records reported by School Safety Agents to the New York City Police Department; 279 in building and scanning logs and records maintained by School Safety Agents; and 1,454 in student suspension records (there is some overlap if incidents were recorded in more than one source).
Thompson’s auditors found a number of systemic flaws:
High schools are not reporting incidents completely or consistently. Overall, the 10 sampled schools didn’t report 21 percent of the 1,996 sampled incidents that were identified. The percentage of incidents not entered in OORS varied greatly among schools, ranging from five to 75 percent (with three schools with rates over 25 percent).
Although DOE provides guidance through written regulations and an annual safety memorandum to principals, DOE officials do not visit schools to analyze school safety and disciplinary records to determine how well the schools are adhering to guidelines.
“The DOE is limited in its ability to determine whether the data that is entered into its system is reliable and consistently reported from school to school,” Thompson said.
DOE should institute more effective controls over reporting of incidents. Although DOE has given general instructions to administrators about their responsibilities in reporting incidents, the agency hasn’t established adequate controls to determine whether those instructions are being followed on a consistent basis.
“It is important that principals understand the necessity to report incidents and to categorize them in line with each year’s new codes,” Thompson said. “Administrators at each school we visited stated that they decide for themselves the category of an incident and whether it should be reported.”
Thompson said that with each school relying on its own determination of which incidents need to be entered into the online system, incident data cannot easily be compared from school to school.
DOE must take a more active role in incident-reporting in OORS. Auditors noted that the agency should enhance its oversight to ensure that schools are aware of and comply with regulations regarding incident reporting.
Regional Safety Administrators review data reported by schools in their districts, and DOE’s Office of School Intervention and Development is responsible for ensuring that incidents are accurately reported in OORS. But DOE needs to take more active role in ensuring that principals understand what is required and that they comply.
Auditors further found a wide variation from school to school in the reporting of incidents, and in the consistent reporting of similar incidents – largely due to the discretion accorded to administrators in categorizing incidents.
Thompson pointed out that his audit is consistent with one issued last year by the New York State Comptroller’s Office, which found that a majority of schools sampled outside of New York City had a significant percentage of unreported violent and disruptive incidents.
Thompson made three recommendations, asking DOE to:
- Exercise more oversight of data entry in OORS by the schools to make sure that incidents are reported in accordance with DOE regulations. Such oversight should include visiting schools and performing testing of the data entry and reporting process used by the schools.
- Take corrective actions at schools that fail to enter incidents in OORS in accordance with DOE regulations; and,
- Provide additional training to school administrators regarding how incidents are to be categorized and subsequently recorded in OORS to help ensure that the recording of incidents is consistent from school to school.
NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. press release