Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said Wednesday he is standing by Indiana's system of assigning "A-F" grades to schools based on their performance despite reports that the state's former schools chief worked to change the grading formula to ensure a top GOP donor's school received an "A."
Pence told The Journal Gazette on Wednesday that the system is "an essential part" of accountability measures designed to improve education in Indiana. But he said the public must have confidence that the system is "fair and impartial."
"I think the A-to-F system is extremely important," Pence said after participating in a mile-long walk to promote health with his wife, Karen. "Parents have a right to know how their schools are performing overall. But that system needs to really reflect the performance of those schools in an accurate and fair and impartial way."
Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to change the grading formula so Christel House Academy, a charter school founded by Christel DeHaan, received an "A." DeHaan has donated $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.
Bennett had touted the school as a top performer for months as he built support for his education agenda among lawmakers and business groups. But low 10th grade algebra scores pulled the school's initial mark down to a "C."
"This will be a HUGE problem for us," Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to his chief of staff. "They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work."
The emails show efforts to raise the grade, including changing color presentations on a chart so a high "B'' looked like an "A," and included questions about whether the state could legally change just Christel House's score.
It's not clear how the formula was changed, but within a week, Christel House had gone from a 2.9 to a 3.75.
Bennett, who now is reworking Florida's grading system as that state's education commissioner, denies that Christel House Academy received special treatment and says other schools also benefited. He said discovering that the charter would receive a low grade raised broader concerns with grades for other "combined" schools — those that included multiple grade levels — across the state.
DeHaan has told The Associated Press no one from the school was involved in any discussions about its grade.