INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A year before he changed the grade of a top Republican
donor's charter school from a "C'' to an "A," Indiana's former schools
chief declined to give two Indianapolis public schools taken over by the
state in 2011 the same flexibility to improve their crucial
Tony Bennett, who resigned Thursday as Florida's top education official
amid allegations he changed the grade of Indianapolis' Christel House
Academy, had denied Indianapolis Public Schools' 2011 request for more
flexibility in assessing two IPS schools' grades on Indiana's A-to-F
rating system, The Indianapolis Star reported.
Then-IPS Superintendent Eugene White had argued that Arlington and Howe
high schools had made sufficient gains in Grades 9-12 to earn at least a
"D'' if the scores of middle school students weren't considered. Those two
schools were among seven IPS schools that had been facing potential state
takeover after six consecutive years of "F'' ratings.
During a news conference in July 2011 — a month before Indiana took over
the two schools — White called Bennett's school-grading approach
"I don't believe anyone would look at this and say that it was fair,"
White said at that time.
Bennett, who was then Indiana's school's chief, denied that request and
was dismissive of White's argument.
"We could all day try to find a way of making the figures work, but the
calculations being used and addressed today are the calculations we have
used since 1999," Bennett said at the time.
Emails published by The Associated Press this week show that Bennett and
his Indiana staff scrambled last fall to ensure Christel DeHaan's school
received an A, despite poor 10th-grade algebra scores that initially
earned it a C.
Indiana's education department had been working at the time to create a
new grading method that added new measures of test-score growth and the
college and career readiness of high school graduates.
The emails obtained by the AP began after Bennett learned the latest run
of calculations had resulted in a C for Christel House.
"Anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all our
accountability work," Bennett wrote to his chief of staff on Sept. 12,
asking for action.
Bennett, in resigning Thursday, said that while he did nothing wrong
involving Christel House he didn't want to be a distraction to Florida
Gov. Rick Scott's efforts to overhaul that state's education system. He
called the interpretation of the emails "malicious and unfounded" and said
he would call for Indiana's inspector general to look into the
Bennett said he's certain he will be cleared of any wrongdoing.
He lost his re-election bid last November in Indiana. He was hired by
Florida as its education commissioner, a nonelected post, in December.
IPS board member Michael Brown said that even after two years, Indiana
owes IPS some answers about the two schools taken over by the state. He
said it was "totally unfair" that the state's school-grading calculation
"incorporated seventh- and eighth-grade ISTEP scores" into the schools'
"I think they need to take a look at it," he told the Star. "If the system
was skewed to benefit Christel House Academy, then was it skewed to hurt
IPS? That concerns me more than anything else."
Information from: The Indianapolis Star,