Report: Understaffed Indiana Department of Education rushed grades

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Indiana's former top educator says an independent study of a school grading system vindicates him.

Investigators say changes made by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett to the state's A-F school grades were "consistently applied" and not weighted toward helping a charter school that was financed by a political supporter.

The report issued Friday says Bennett and others underestimated the challenges of the new grading system and rushed into it. But it also says Bennett acted fairly, when it came to Christel House.

"The rules were applied uniformly to all schools, so no one was getting special treatment," said Sen. David Long (R-Fort Wayne).

A new report on the state's controversial grading system calls the changes to Christel House Academy's final grade plausible.

"I was comforted, I think from the report in saying that it did not appear it was done for the wrong reasons," said Sen. Long.

The independent investigation found a flawed computer model skewed grades not just at Christel House, but at 165 other schools.

"The flurry of concern was that if a school that there's consensus on should be an A school is suddenly a C school with the model, what's wrong with the model?" said Rep. Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis).

Republican leaders ordered the review last month after emails surfaced raising questions about the Christel house grade. The charter school had been touted as an A school but initially received a C.

Internal emails from then-State Superintendent Tony Bennett show him miffed. In one, he wrote, "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel house compromises our accountability work."

Those grades are important because they impact funding. And failing schools can be taken over by the state, which has happened to some IPS schools. Last month the district's board president took issue with Bennett.

"If you are going to create an accountability system, you don't decide what you want the grades to be and then go back and fix the formula to make that happen," said Diane Arnold, IPS board president.

The scandal led Bennett to resign from his new job leading schools in Florida and to demand a formal investigation in Indiana.

"That way we can put this issue to rest because frankly I am fearless about what they will find," said Bennett.

In a statement today, Bennett said "I am pleased with this vindication, not for me but for the work of my colleagues at the Department of Education and the 1.1 million Indiana students who have benefited and will continue to benefit from a clear and rigorous school accountability system."

Asked whether Bennett deserved an apology Long said, "I think at this point what's happened has happened and we've got to look forward."

Meantime, Indiana's top lawmakers are saying the new school grading formula is unlikely to include "benchmark" schools.

The review released Friday found Bennett's staff changed the formula to ensure the Christel House charter school in Indianapolis would receive an "A'' because it was considered a "benchmark" school.

Bosma said he did not think new "A-F" school grades should include benchmark schools. Sen. David Long says he didn't think Christel House was guaranteed an "A'' in the old model.

Read the executive summary here.

Charge letter

Transmittal letter