Bennett blasted over grade change emails - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Bennett blasted over grade change emails

Updated:
Diane Arnold Diane Arnold
INDIANAPOLIS -

The fallout continued Thursday from a grade change controversy by Indiana's former state superintendent of public instruction.

A top teachers union says Indiana should immediately suspend its A-F school grading system because of emails showing former schools chief Tony Bennett and his staff changed the grading formula to benefit a top GOP donor's school.

AFT Indiana issued its call at a Statehouse news conference Thursday, just hours after Bennett resigned as Florida's education commissioner.

Bennett's internal emails indicating he manipulated the state's school grading system to improve the grade given to the acclaimed Crystal House Academy didn't surprise IPS School Board President Diane Arnold.

"He had touted these charter schools as the save-all for all the children, so he had to figure out how to make is work to make charter schools look better," said Arnold.

Two years ago, IPS fought the state takeover of Arlington and Howe, insisting the Department of Education unfairly combined the test scores of the separate middle and high schools housed in the buildings. IPS argued there were two separate schools entitled to two different grades, and that the high school grades were good enough to prevent a state takeover. The Department of Education said no; one building meant one grade.

Would the schools have been taken over if they received the same treatment as charter schools?

"It appears they would not have," Arnold said.

Reaction to Bennett's resignation was quick from the teachers' union which fought the grading system and Bennett's other school accountability measures.

"This example of Tony Bennett's resigning is just another example of what accountability is all about - being held accountable for whatever actions or choices you make," said Teresa Meredith, ISTA president.

Governor Mike Pence immediately called for a thorough and quick review of the school grading system, saying through a spokesperson, "students, parents and teachers deserve to know our state has a fair and impartial grading system that accurately describes the performances of our schools."

Bennett himself wants his actions investigated, saying in a letter to Indiana's office of the inspector general, " I adamantly disagree with the reported assertions, and I do not believe that any 2012 DOE employee or I violated a state law or administrative rule."

Bennett has denied any wrongdoing and says the formula change wasn't directed solely at Christel House Academy.

He resigned his Florida post Thursday, saying he didn't want the Indiana emails to distract from Florida's education efforts.

His letter to Indiana Inspector General David Thomas calls emails cited in the story a "small snapshot of a long, arduous and iterative process" of implementing Indiana's A-F grading.

About the grading system

Indiana uses A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

The grades' validity has been questioned since The Associated Press disclosed emails showing Bennett and his staff worked to raise Christel House Academy from a C to an A.

Governor Pence is urging the Indiana Department of Education to review questions surrounding A-F accountability grades given to state schools in 2011 and 2012 and report its findings at a State Board of Education meeting next Wednesday.

DFER-IN executive director Larry Grau issued this statement on Bennett's resignation:

"We cannot let the actions of a few individuals overshadow the work that has been done to improve the system of accountability in Indiana schools. We've seen in recent months a push to roll back Common Core standards, water down teacher evaluations and make it more difficult for great schools to thrive. It would be throwing out the baby with the bath water if current elected officials in Indiana use this story to undermine years of bipartisan work in K-12 education that began under Democratic leadership."

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