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Friday, June 14
The Indiana Daily Student

crime & courts education

Report analyzes grading system

Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett has been cleared of any wrongdoing in reference to claims he made grade adjustments for certain state schools last year, according to a report released by the state legislature Friday.

The report investigated Bennett’s changes to the grading system, which were claimed to have been politically influenced to support Indianapolis charter school Christel House Academy. Christel DeHaan, a top donor to Bennett’s previous campaign, founded the school.

State lawmakers requested the review after the Associated Press released emails between Bennett and his staff in July. The emails showed Bennett took special precautions to change Christel House Academy’s grade to an “A” after originally earning a “C.”

“They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett said in an email last September to the Indiana chief of staff.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, along with Republican Legislative Leader Brian Bosma, requested the report. In a press release from Long, he said he was pleased with the report, which was done by John Grew, executive director of State Relations and Policy Analysis at IU, and Bill Sheldrake, president and founder of Policy Analytics.

In the release, Long said the report “will help immensely as the state begins work on a new A-F grading process.”

According to the report, the adjustments made by the Bennett administrative were necessary to eliminate certain scores from the Christel House Academy’s grade. The report concluded  Bennett had fairly applied the grade.

According to the report, the grade change for Christel House Academy was plausible, and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances. The report did, however, state that a significant portion of the education community did not understand or trust in the accuracy or fairness of Bennett’s tactics.

Bennett, who resigned as Florida’s education commissioner last month, released a statement saying he felt the report vindicated him.

“The report clearly shows that accusations of manipulation of the A-F system for a single school are false and malicious,” Bennett said in the statement. “You will remember that when the Department of Education released school grades last year, I said the process was imperfect and could be improved greatly. Still, it is a far better measurement and accountability tool for our schools than has ever been used in our state.”

According to the Gradebook Blog from the Tampa Bay Times, Bennett said he resigned to avoid becoming a distraction to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and others pushing the education “reform” agenda in Florida.

Although the report did not analyze Bennett’s political motives, it did call for a
number of changes to the grading system. These adjustments include working more closely with lawmakers and the governor to explain changes to the grading system, bringing in more outside experts for advice and adding measures other than test scores to the formula.   

Terry Spradlin, director of Education Policy for the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at IU, said the school grading system, which has been used by the state for the last two years, is still undergoing legislative review and awaiting new recommendation by the Indiana Department of Education.

“The concern is that the current system is not transparent or effective at giving schools fair grades,” Spradlin said. “Because there’s now a misperception that the system is flawed, education leaders and policy makers feel that it at least needs to be reviewed.”

Follow reporter Brett Frieman on Twitter @brttfrmn.

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