IO Raises Concern About Cheating at Columbus Horizon school

For Immediate Release: July 29, 2014
Contact: Dale Butland, 614-783-5833

Is the Horizon Academy in Columbus Cheating?
Innovation Ohio Says Test Score Discrepancies Raise Red Flags

Columbus — Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, released a study today that shows a large discrepancy between two sets of academic performance scores at the Horizon Science Academy Columbus (hereafter, “Horizon Columbus”).

The IO finding follow on the heels of recent news stories in which former students and parents allege that test and attendance scores were tampered with at the Horizon Academy in Dayton. As a result of those stories, IO looked at the four Horizon schools in Ohio that operate up to Grade 12 and compared the scores those students received on the state Performance Index with the scores those same students received on the ACT college entrance exam. Performance Index tests are administered by the schools themselves, while ACT tests are administered by an independent testing company. For most schools and school districts — including 3 of the 4 Horizon schools — ACT and state Performance Index scores are closely correlated. That is not the case at Horizon Columbus, however.

According to the latest State Report Card data, Horizon Columbus students scored 98.6 on the state Performance Index, slightly below the state public school district average of 98.9.  But on the ACT test, Horizon Columbus students had an average score of just 17, which put them in the 28th percentile of all students taking the ACT.  In other words, 72% of all ACT test-takers scored higher than Horizon Columbus students — and just 16 of Ohio’s 612 school districts had ACT scores that were the same or worse.  Yet Horizon Columbus students somehow managed to achieve a higher Performance Index score than 269 Ohio school districts.

The extent of the discrepancy at Horizon Columbus is dramatic.  In the 60 Ohio school districts that scored, like Horizon Columbus, between 98 and 99 on the Performance Index, the average ACT score was 21.1 — and none of those 60 districts had average ACT scores below 19, let alone the 17 scored by Horizon Columbus students.  Columbus City schools, for example, also had an average ACT score of 17.  But their Performance Index score, at the height of the data manipulation scandal, was 79.2 — far below Horizon Columbus’ score of 98.6.

Said IO Communications Director Dale Butland:

“Today’s report raises the possibility that the cheating and data manipulation alleged in Dayton may have occurred at Horizon’s Columbus campus too.

“While a discrepancy between ACT and Performance Index scores doesn’t prove the existence of cheating, it’s hard to fathom how the same students at a single school could have such wildly varying test performance scores. What makes it even more suspicious is that one test — the ACT — is independently administered, while state Performance Index tests are administered by schools themselves; in this case, by Horizon Columbus personnel. This could be especially significant in light of the story in last Sunday’s Dayton Daily News in which a former student claimed he was paid to alter Performance Index tests at Dayton’s Horizon Academy.

“Equally curious is why Horizon Columbus supporters feel impelled to falsify that school’s graduation results.  In a July 26 letter to the Columbus Dispatch, for example, one prominent Horizon Columbus supporter said the school’s graduation rate, like that of the Cleveland Horizon school, is “typically over 90%.”  In fact, Horizon Columbus received a graduation grade of “F” on the latest State Report Card.  The letter also claimed that Horizon Columbus seniors have such “high GPAs and ACT scores” that they are “sought out by some of the nation’s finest colleges and universities, including the University of Chicago, Notre Dame and MIT.” But according to the websites of those three universities, the median ACT scores for admitted students is 33-35, roughly twice as high as Columbus Horizon’s average score of 17.

“Last week, Auditor of State Dave Yost said he would restrict his investigation to the Horizon school in Dayton. Today, Innovation Ohio calls on Auditor Yost to expand that investigation to include Horizon Columbus as well. When it came to exposing data manipulation in Columbus city schools, Mr. Yost was a tiger. If similar wrong-doing has occurred at charter schools like Horizon Columbus, we hope he will not be a pussy cat. “

Read the analysis: “More on the Horizon”