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Indiana Report Finds Bennett's Grade Changes Were 'Plausible'

Elle Moxley
StateImpact Indiana

An Indiana report has found that school grading formula changes former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett made in 2012 while the elected superintendent of Hoosier State schools were “plausible” and “consistently applied” to all schools.

Indiana lawmakers requested the review after the Associated Press published emails showing Bennett and his staff discussing how to change the school grading formula. The emails showed Bennett was concerned about the formula after a prominent charter school, Christel House Academy, initially earned a ‘C’ grade. The school earned an ‘A’ grade after the changes.

Bennett resigned as Florida’s education commissioner last month, just days after the initial Associated Press story. Bennett said he had done nothing wrong, but did not want to be a distraction.

The Indiana report backs his claims, though does note the Indiana Department of Education needed to be more transparent and work more closely with lawmakers and the governor. In addition, the report found the departure of key staff members were a factor in a lack of quality control prior to releasing the school grades.

“The two adjustments administered to determine Christel House’s final grade were plausible,” John Grew and William Sheldrake, the report’s authors, wrote, “and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances.”

The report also found that educators did not believe the grading formula accurately or fairly represented a school’s performance, or treated different school types — public, private, charter — equally and fairly.

Bennett said he felt vindicated by the report.

“The report clearly shows that accusations of manipulation of the A-F system for a single school are false and malicious,” he said in a 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.”

The report did not examine the political motivations of Bennett and his staff for making the changes.

The report recommends a number of changes to Indiana’s school grading formula, many of which might be considered as Florida considers revisions to its school grading system.

They include:

  • Working more closely with lawmakers and the governor to explain changes to the grading system.
  • Bringing in more outside experts for advice.
  • Be more open and transparent about changes to the formula.
  • Simplify the school grading system.
  • Put less emphasis on the percentage of students meeting state goals on tests — also known as proficiency — and more emphasis on the improvement of student scores from one year to the next.
  • Add measures other than test scores to the formula.
  • Pilot test any new formula for a year.

Many of the recommendations mirror those of experts StateImpact Florida spoke with last month.

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