INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A report released Friday found that former Indiana
Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett changed the grade for a donor's charter
school last year because it was considered a "quality control" school from
the start, but did not address whether there was any political pressure to
make the switch.
Bennett and his staff were overburdened by the complexities of creating an
"A-F" school grading system and rushed the answers out before they were
ready, wrote John Grew and Bill Sheldrake in their 58-page report. Indiana's
Republican legislative leaders tasked the two veterans of Democratic and
Republican administrations last month with reviewing the grade changes.
Grew and Sheldrake found that Christel House's initial "C'' — which was
switched to an "A'' — prompted changes across the grading formula. However,
they said the changes were applied evenly among other schools.
Education leaders interviewed for the report said they believe the
Indianapolis charter school is a top-performing institution, but also said
Bennett's formula did not earn their "trust" because of a lack of
"Through our interviews, we learned that Dr. Bennett had been under
considerable pressure to design an accountability system that was not deemed
harsh to charter schools or urban schools," they wrote. "In response to such
concerns, he repeatedly stated that Christel House Academy, which was widely
viewed as a successful charter school in an urban environment, would do well
under the new system."
The initial "C'' Christel House received was "a surprise to Dr. Bennett and
senior DOE staff," Grew and Sheldrake's report said. Efforts to raise the
school's grade were both an attempt to save the credibility of the New
Accountability Model and a desire to treat a recognized good school fairly,
according to a wide range of testimony.
"Any further motivations underlying these actions are beyond the scope and
documentation of this report," Grew and Sheldrake said.
Bennett resigned as Florida's schools commissioner a few days after The
Associated Press published emails showing he changed Indiana's school
grading formula for Christel House. The school was founded by a prolific
donor who has given roughly $2.8 million to Indiana Republicans in the last
Bennett said in a statement Friday that the report is "vindication" against
"political attacks" levied against him.
"The report clearly shows that accusations of manipulation of the A-F system
for a single school are false and malicious," Bennett said. "I am pleased
with this vindication, not for me, but for the work of my colleagues at the
Department of Education and for the 1.1 million Indiana students who have
benefited and will continue to benefit from a clear and rigorous school
Grew and Sheldrake said Friday that the report does not "exonerate" or
"vindicate" Bennett, nor condemn him. They said it only explains how his
team changed the grading formula.
The report details the mechanics of how Bennett and his team changed the
school's initial "C'' to an "A." First they reworked the computer model to
remove an artificial limit that had been placed on "bonus points" awarded to
the school for performance in grades K-8. Then they dropped the scores from
the school's ninth and 10th grades, removing poor algebra scores in the
Sheldrake explained that because the school did not have an 11th or 12th
grade — it adds a grade each year and last year was the first with a class
of 10th-graders — it was unfairly being penalized in how graduation rates
figured into the formula.
The authors also discovered that three high schools had their scores
incorrectly bumped up by the removal of bonus-point limits in the high
school calculations. They recommended their scores be readjusted, likely
taking them from "A'' grades back to "B'' grades.
Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he hopes the
findings allow education leaders to move forward with a rewrite of the
school grading formula, which was called for months before Bennett's emails
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he did not think "benchmark"
schools, like Christel House, would be used in the new system to set the
"Whether these were appropriate benchmarks to select under the
circumstances, the report doesn't say, I don't know that I have an opinion
at this point and it will be up to the department (of education) and the
Board of Education to address this," he said.
Grades for some schools may have to be reworked and the creation of a new
grading formula should be transparent, include more input and be easier to
understand, Grew and Sheldrake recommend in the report.
School Superintendent Glenda Ritz, the Democrat and former union president
who ousted Bennett last November, was hesitant Friday to criticize Bennett,
but hinted she had concerns with how the previous administration came up
with the grades.
"The grades that were issued were done according to the previous
administration. I cannot stand before you and say that I feel they were done
in complete adherence with the rules," Ritz said.
In the meantime, the state is expected to issue another round of school
grades using the Bennett formula while testing is done on the new formula