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State confirms Bennett altered school grades

State confirms Bennett altered school grades

INDIANAPOLIS | The Indiana Department of Education has confirmed former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett improperly altered school accountability grades.

"Upon our preliminary examination, the department has verified that there was manipulation of calculation categories," said Glenda Ritz, the current state superintendent of public instruction.

Ritz told the State Board of Education on Wednesday that Bennett's grade-changing, which improved the grades of a dozen charter schools, did not conform to rules the board established to rate Indiana schools, throwing the entire A-F school grading system into question.

She said her staff has begun recalculating 2011-12 school grades in compliance with the rules. But as a result, 2012-13 school grades will be delayed, likely for months, while officials first find and then fix Bennett's unauthorized school grade changes.

"It's clear to me that we're going to have to wait until that is completed thoroughly to know how we proceed with doing the accountability grades for 2012-13," Ritz said. 

The first-year Democratic schools chief said she expects to know more by Labor Day, when an independent review authorized by the Republican-controlled General Assembly is due to be released.

But a separate review by Indiana's inspector general that Bennett requested last week as he was resigning as Florida's schools leader could delay the process, Ritz said.

Complicating things further, the State Board of Education is required by a law enacted earlier this year to devise by Nov. 15 a new method of calculating A-F school grades that uses measures of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency in each school.

The current grading system, developed by Bennett during his single term as superintendent and rubber-stamped by the state board, uses a complicated weighted average of standardized test scores, career-readiness test scores, graduation rates and several other factors to arrive at a single letter grade for each school.

On Wednesday, the Republican-appointed state school board members, who regularly debate minor policy questions for hours, said little as Ritz detailed the school grade manipulations by her Republican predecessor.

She told the board their new school grading system must be better than the current one because state lawmakers have put such high stakes on school grades, including the possibility of school takeovers by private, for-profit companies.

"As superintendent, I am committed to a strong accountability system that is fair and transparent," Ritz said.

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