INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Indiana’s State Board of Education declined Wednesday to
change the grades for a handful of schools following a review of changes the
former public schools superintendent made last year to the grading formula
to benefit a donor’s charter school.
The board decided that three high schools should keep the A’s they received,
while four other schools should keep their F’s. Indiana’s current schools
superintendent, Democrat Glenda Ritz, abstained from Wednesday’s votes.
“These school are being penalized because we did not create a model that
fits their school,” Tony Walker, a Gary lawyer and Democratic member of the
school board, said of the three high schools that had their grades lifted
from B’s to A’s because of one change made by former Superintendent Tony
Bennett, a Republican.
“That’s no fault of theirs, that’s a lack of foresight that we didn’t know
these schools existed out there that we didn’t have a model for them,” he
said. “These schools should at least be given the benefit of the doubt
because we did not account for their configuration.”
Bennett made a pair of sweeping changes in the formula that carried the
Christel House charter school from a C to an A. He removed a limit on bonus
points and changed how so-called “combined” schools were scored. Each change
affected multiple schools, but Christel House was the only school to benefit
Three high schools saw their grades lifted slightly, but four saw their
grades drop from D’s to F’s after Bennett decided to drop high school grades
for certain “combined” schools in Indiana’s scoring model. Christel House’s
high school had poor algebra scores and no graduation numbers because it did
not include grades 11 and 12. But in the case of the other four schools,
their high school performance was lifting up their grades.
Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August, a few days after The
Associated Press published emails uncovering his changes to the formula.
Bennett has maintained he did nothing wrong.
Inspector General David Thomas has confirmed that Bennett is the subject of
an ongoing investigation but has declined to say specifically what is being
Indiana has classified schools based on graduation rates and testing
performance since “Public Law 221” was approved in 1999. But Bennett sought
more accountability for schools and successfully pushed for a new A-F
The grades are used to determine how much money schools get and whether
“failing” schools are taken over by private operators. The grades have also
become an important tool for realtors and homebuyers.
Indiana’s school board had already been tasked by state lawmakers earlier
this year with creating a new formula by Nov. 15. That work continues.
The pair of analysts picked by Indiana’s Republican legislative leaders to
review Bennett’s changes took questions from the board earlier Wednesday.
John Grew, a former Democratic Statehouse analyst, and Bill Sheldrake, a
veteran Republican analyst, walked through their findings in the 58-page
The pair found that Bennett and his team rushed to release the school grades
last year without properly testing the formula. They also discovered
credibility problems with the scoring because Bennett and his team were not
telling the public about changes they made.
Sheldrake ended with some final advice for the board as it works on the new
grading formula: “Transparency. Transparency. Transparency.”