Parents disappointed about upcoming closing of Flanner House Elementary Charter School

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A state investigation found widespread cheating on ISTEP exams at the Flanner House charter elementary school.

The school will close. Had its board not made that decision, Mayor Greg Ballard says he probably would have pulled the schools' charter and shut it down. Thursday, he accepted the decision of the school's Board of Directors to surrender its charter and close the school effective September 11.

Parents picking up their children from school were blindsided by the closing and revelations of cheating. Many said they found out via Facebook or through friends.

"I felt left down," said parent Charla Davis. "I am still in shock. I don't know how to feel."

These are parents who left traditional public schools with the expectation that a charter school would do a better job of educating their children. Brittany Thompson enrolled her first and second graders.

"Well it was a good school, but obviously not," she said with a sigh of frustration.

On paper, Flanner House Elementary looked like a great school, one of the state's best.

In 2013, students passing ISTEP exams jumped from a mediocre 56 percent to a stellar 95 percent. The incredible improvement caught the attention of the mayor's office of education.

"Our team saw this pattern very, very fast," Ballard said.

The office then notified the Indiana Department of Education. The investigation took more than a year.

Among other things, the report found:
  • The school's 2013 ISTEP+ tests showed an unusually high number of changes from wrong to right answers.
  • Adult handwriting was repeatedly found in student answers of the 2013 test.
  • Students were given test questions before administration of the 2014 ISTEP test.
  • Teachers revised and edited student responses to real ISTEP questions prior to administering the 2014 test.
  • Flanner House Elementary failed to follow several testing security procedures. In particular, it was found that 2013 Testing Integrity Agreements were forged.
A summary of the Indiana Department of Education findings are available here.

The report says school administrators had no other explanation for the dramatic improvement in student achievement.

"When academic fraud occurs, it cuts you pretty deep," Ballard said. "It's bad, it's bad."

Especially bad for 176 students and parents. They have less than three weeks to transfer their records and enroll in new schools.

"I had the whole year planned to where everything would be fine. This changes a lot," Russell Prim said.

The mayor will forward the investigation to the Marion County prosecutor to review. The state could take action against any licensed teachers or administrators involved in the cheating. However, a Department of Education spokesman explained that finding something wrong is one thing, finding who is responsible is another.

"Cheating simply will not be tolerated in our schools," said Mayor Greg Ballard. "I support the decision by the Flanner House Elementary Charter School Board of Directors to close this school. Our team is now squarely focused on helping the students and families at Flanner House Elementary quickly find another high-quality public, private or charter school."

The Mayor's Office of Education Innovation and Flanner House Elementary will hold informational meetings with parents Thursday and Friday from 3:30-6 p.m. at the school.

Following Thursday's meeting, one parent said, "That's a leader right there refusing to talk to parents of this school and this is what we call a politician. He's supposed to be for our community and walked out on these people."

Another parent said, "I just spent hundreds of dollars buying uniforms I'm not going to get back. I paid book rental fees I 'm not going to get back. I live across the street, and I have no idea where my child is going to go to school."

When kids returned to school Friday morning, parents and grandparents were still disappointed about Flanner House Elementary's closing.

"They (kids) are happy and can't wait to get here in the morning," said grandparent Pam Matthews. "I think it's really sad because the kids are going to be the ones who are going to be hurt."

Miss Curtis echoed Matthews.

"I don't believe it," Curtis said. This is a family-oriented school and it just doesn't seem like that's what they do. We came here early on Saturdays to practice for the tests. But cheating? No that's not their nature."

An enrollment fair will be held next week with nearby public, private, parochial, and charter schools so parents can get more information and enroll their child.

The Office of Education Innovation is also assigning a full-time staff person to Flanner House Elementary to assist parents in the transition process and ensure the safe and timely transfer of student records.

The mission statement says the goal of Flanner House Elementary is "to develop the highest potential of its students." No one expected teachers would cheat to get their students some of the highest ISTEP scores in the state.

Flanner House of Indianapolis, Inc. released this statement:
Flanner House of Indianapolis, Inc., a United Way agency, is disappointed and saddened to learn of the allegations involving attempts to enhance student scores on standardized tests. Though we share similar names, Flanner House Elementary Charter School is a completely separate entity, with its own Board of Directors and 501(c)(3) designation. Additionally, Flanner House of Indianapolis was in no way involved in or aware of the alleged misconduct that resulted in the revocation of Flanner House Elementary Charter School's charter.

The allegations levied against Flanner House Elementary Charter School do not reflect the goals, missions and values of Flanner House of Indianapolis and its leadership. For more than a century, Flanner House of Indianapolis has been committed to serving our community through various initiatives and programming, including pre-school, before and after-school care, social services, job training, economic development as well as supporting our seniors.

As we strive for educational excellence and advancement in our community, we will continue to provide excellent programming that reflects our core values and mission.