District of Columbia Public Schools:

Student Enrollment Count Remains Vulnerable to Errors

HEHS-97-161: Published: Aug 21, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 21, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the enrollment count process that the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) used in school year 1996-97, focusing on: (1) whether the process appeared sufficient to produce an accurate count; (2) enrollment count processes used by some other urban school systems; and (3) the role of the Department of Education's Inspector General in preparing DCPS' official enrollment count for school year 1996-97.

GAO noted that: (1) even though DCPS changed parts of its enrollment count process in school year 1996-97 to address criticisms, the process remains flawed; (2) some of these changes increased complexity and work effort but did little to improve the count's credibility; (3) errors remained in the Student Information System (SIS), but DCPS had only limited mechanisms for correcting these errors; (4) problems also persisted in the critical area of residency verification; (5) in school year 1996-97, schools did not always verify student residency as required by DCPS' own procedures; (6) proofs of residency, when actually obtained, often fell short of DCPS' standards; (7) Central Office staff did not consistently track failures to verify residency; (8) school staff and parents rarely suffered sanctions for failure to comply with the residency verification requirements; (9) the pupil accounting system failed to adequately track students; (10) SIS allowed more than one school to count a single student when the student transferred from one school to another; (11) schools did not always follow attendance rules, and SIS lacked the capability to track implementation of the rules; (12) some attendance rules, if implemented, could have allowed counting of nonattending students; (13) other school districts report that they use several approaches to control errors and to increase the accuracy of their enrollment counts; (14) these include using centralized enrollment and pupil accounting centers and a variety of automated student information system edits and procedures designed to prevent or disallow pupil accounting errors before they occur; (15) the recently enacted District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 requires the enrollment count process to produce enrollment numbers for nonresidents and students with special needs; (16) DCPS (acting on behalf of the District of Columbia Board of Education) and the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority are not in compliance with requirements of this new law; (17) the Department of Education helped DCPS develop its request for proposals for the independent audit of the enrollment count for school year 1996-97, but it had no role in preparing DCPS' official enrollment count for school year 1996-97; and (18) the Authority subsequently decided, however, that auditing the count for school year 1996-97 would be counterproductive.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: Because the enrollment count will become the basis for funding DCPS, Congress should consider directing DCPS to report separately, in its annual reporting of the enrollment count, those students for whom District residency cannot be confirmed.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Subcommittee has not taken action on this recommendation.

    Matter: Because the enrollment count will become the basis for funding DCPS, Congress should consider directing DCPS to report separately, in its annual reporting of the enrollment count, those students who are above and below the mandatory age for compulsory public education, such as prekindergarten or those aged 20 and above.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Subcommittee has not taken action on this recommendation.

    Matter: Because the enrollment count will become the basis for funding DCPS, Congress should consider directing DCPS to report separately, in its annual reporting of the enrollment count, those students who are fully funded from other sources, such as Head Start participants or tuition-paying nonresidents.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Subcommittee has not taken action on this recommendation.

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, should comply with the reporting requirements of the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Public Schools

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The membership report released by the Superintendent, DCPS, for school year 2001-2002 was unchanged from previous years, and did not comply with the reporting requirements of the School Reform Act.

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, should institute internal controls in the student information database, including database management practices and automatic procedures and edits to control database errors.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Public Schools

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, has increased the training for principals and system coordinators to improve their understanding of the procedures for entering enrollment, student status, and special education information. They have also enhanced their reporting of system errors and required greater analysis and reporting of those errors to the assistant superintendents. The assistant superintendents are now responsible for ensuring that the data problems are corrected. In addition, for school year 1998-99, DCPS modified the existing data system to provide for some of the internal data checks. DCPS initiated the purchase of a new system that would have all the recommended automatic procedures and edits. However, after lengthy procurement delays, the purchase has not yet been approved and the system may not be in place until September, 2002, at the earliest. In the interim, because of these delays, they are exploring other newer systems and technologies.

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, should clarify, document, and enforce the residency verification requirements for students and their parents.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Public Schools

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Beginning with school year 1998-1999, the Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, has clarified and strengthened residency documentation requirements for all students and documented these requirements in a Back-to-School Check List provided to all parents and guardians of DCPS students.

    Recommendation: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, should clarify, document, and enforce the responsibilities and sanctions for employees in all three areas of the enrollment count process--enrollment, residency verification, and pupil accounting.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Public Schools

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent, DCPS, appointed staff with specific responsibilities to revise and oversee the processes involved in producing and reporting the enrollment count for the 1997-1998 school year. That enrollment count process remained flawed (see T-HEHS-98-91). The new Chief Executive Officer/Superintendent appointed new staff to oversee portions of the process for school year 1998-1999, however, no process changes occurred during school year 1998-99. Some changes to improve the quality and accuracy of the count have been reported for the school year 2000-01 enrollment count process, including early in-house audits with random quality control checks. Principals have been informed that failing to comply with key elements of the enrollment processes will result in referral to the Assistant Superintendent for sanctioning. In July 2000, DC established a State Education Office under the Office of the Mayor to oversee the enrollment count and the residency verification process. No other changes for school year 2001/2002 were reported.

    Recommendation: The District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority should comply with the auditing requirements of the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority retained Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio and Associates, PC to conduct an audit of the October 30, 1997, official membership count, and the final report of that audit has been issued.

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