Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

State News

September 17, 2013

Report: Bennett "fairly" changed school grades

INDIANAPOLIS – An independent investigation into the state’s new A-F school grading system has found the former state schools superintendent Tony Bennett fairly adjusted the system’s grading formula for 16 charter schools, including one founded by a prominent Republican donor.

The report, conducted a Democrat analyst and a Republican analyst, also found that the changes Bennett made triggered grade improvements for more than 165 schools around the state – both public and private -- after Bennett’s staff realized there were errors in how they’d applied the formula.

The report released Friday specifically found that changes made to the final grade for Christel House Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis, were “plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances.”

Allegations that Bennett had manipulated the grading system to benefit Christel House’s founder led to his resignation last month as Florida’s schools chief, though he denied wrongdoing and called the allegations “false” and “malicious.”

In a statement released last Friday, 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 accountability system.”

The report found no substance to the allegations, but does blame Bennett for rushing the release of the controversial school grades without conducting a pilot program first that likely would have revealed flaws in the school grading formula that later led to the grade changes.

It also found there was deep distrust of Bennett among educators and others who have a stake in the grading formula results, which have significant impact on schools and their local communities.

“(A) significant portion of the educational community did not understand or trust in the accuracy or fairness of the Bennett Rule’s Metrics, did not believe that the metrics represented essential accountability constructs, and did not believe that the Rule treated different school formats (public, private, charter) equally and fairly,” the report said.

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