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School districts say reporting errors wrongly inflated suspension rate in Colorado schools

By: MELANIE ASMAR Chalkbeat Colorado
August 15, 2016 Updated: August 15, 2016 at 4:26 pm
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A claim that the state's suspension rate spiked after years of decline is now in doubt after two Colorado school districts raised concerns about data included in a recent report.

The Adams 12 Five Star district was highlighted in a report published Wednesday by the advocacy group Padres & Jovenes Unidos for posting a big increase in the number of out-of-school suspensions in the 2014-15 school year. But district spokesman Joe Ferdani told Chalkbeat the state data cited in the report is wrong.

The error originated with the district. Ferdani said Adams 12 provided incorrect data to the state last summer due to an "upload error."

The correct data, he said, shows Adams 12 had 3,585 out-of-school suspensions in 2014-15, less than half the number in the Padres report.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Springs 11 school district said that "due to a coding change at the state level," that district's data is also incorrect.

Colorado Springs 11 did not experience a huge jump in the number of suspensions between 2013-14 and 2014-15, spokeswoman Devra Ashby said. The correct numbers, she said, show suspensions increased from 3,235 in 2013-14 to 3,689 in 2014-15.

The report's finding that the statewide suspension rate spiked in 2014-15 was based largely on data related to those two districts.

Daniel Kim, director of youth organizing for Padres & Jovenes Unidos, said the organization is concerned by the districts' claims. But he said it's up to the districts and the state to resolve any discrepancies in the publicly available data.

A spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education said the state is aware of the discrepancy in the Adams 12 data but not the alleged issue with the Colorado Springs 11 data.

Ferdani said the Adams County school district didn't realize it had provided the state with incorrect information until February, about eight months after submitting it. He said the district asked the state to correct the data but was told that wasn't possible.

"The data has been published for several months and provided to the U.S. Department of Education for our reporting requirements," a state official wrote to Adams 12 in March. "With this in mind, it is too late in the process to have the data updated."

State education department spokesman Jeremy Meyer said the Adams 12 superintendent signed a form when the district first submitted the data in June 2015 verifying that it was correct.

"We don't allow people to go in and change the data once they've given it to us and signed off on it," Meyer said. He said it would be too burdensome on state staff to reload the data, update the website and resubmit the information to the federal education department.

In light of the new details, Chalkbeat has retracted its original story about the Padres report.

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