Bennett changes to school grades improved ratings of 22 region schools

2013-09-06T13:10:00Z 2013-09-07T13:55:04Z Bennett changes to school grades improved ratings of 22 region schoolsBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
September 06, 2013 1:10 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Twenty-two Northwest Indiana schools received higher state-issued grades for the 2011-12 school year after the former head of the Indiana Department of Education adjusted the grading system when a favored charter school initially earned a C.

A report issued Friday that was commissioned by Republican legislative leaders determined that Tony Bennett, the Republican state superintendent of public instruction from 2009 to 2012, fairly adjusted grades for 660 Indiana schools, with 165 bumping up a letter grade and none dropping, after Bennett found what he believed was an error in the grading model's computer program.

According to the report, the school grading rule approved by the State Board of Education did not cap student growth scores on subject tests, but those caps were erroneously included in the computer program used to calculate school grades.

When Bennett learned Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school that he often touted as superior, was set to receive a C, the computer error was discovered and corrected, according to the report. Christel House's final grade was an A.

The report blamed a complicated school grading process and Department of Education staff turnover for the failure to discover the error sooner.

"The two adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy's final grade were plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances," wrote report authors John Grew, of Indiana University, and Bill Sheldrake, of Policy Analytics.

Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the report exonerates Bennett, who resigned as Florida's schools chief last month when the grade changing was first reported.

"There was nothing nefarious in looking at these scores again after finding that the outcomes had been far worse than anticipated," Long said. "The changed rule was applied fairly and across-the-board to all schools."

The report recommends the Department of Education, now headed by Democratic State Superintendent Glenda Ritz, reissue the 2011-12 grades and release 2012-13 grades with a thorough explanation of how the grades were calculated.

Ritz said last year's grades will be delayed because her staff is still trying to determine what should be included in them. She's not convinced Bennett's changes complied with the state's school grading rules and doesn't believe Bennett's school grading model is particularly useful for educators or parents.

"What we have in place in Indiana is an extremely complicated model. I cannot tell a school what their grade means to them, nor can I tell them how it is they go about improving that grade," Ritz said. "It statistically does not offer the information to schools that schools need to improve."

A law enacted earlier this year requires the State Board of Education create a new A-F school grading system for the 2013-14 school year and beyond that is more understandable and places greater weight on individual student growth and achievement.

Two region educators — Principal Cheryl Ramsey, of Gary's Beveridge Elementary School, and Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia, of Portage Township Schools — were selected by Ritz on Friday to serve on a 17-member advisory panel that will recommend an A-F grading model to the State Board of Education.

House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said no matter what they come up with they'll never get Bennett's "skunk spray" stench off A-F school grades in Indiana.

"People will never fully trust grades doled out by politicians for political purposes," Pelath said. "The grades are for rewarding friends and punishing the weak."

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