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UPDATE: Review of A-F system finds no special treatment

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A report released Friday found that former Indiana Schools Superintendent Tony Bennett changed the grade for a donor's charter school last year because it was considered a "quality control" school from the start, but did not address whether there was any political pressure to make the change.

Bennett and his staff were overburdened by the complexities of creating an "A-F" school grading system and rushed the answers out before they were ready, wrote John Grew and Bill Sheldrake in their 58-page report. Indiana's Republican legislative leaders tasked the two veterans of Democratic and Republican administrations last month with reviewing the grade changes.

Sheldrake is president of Policy Analytics LLC and former head of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute. Grew, executive director for state relations and policy analysis at Indiana University, served as executive assistant for fiscal policy and higher education under former Gov. Frank O'Bannon, a Democrat.

“In the end, the Authors found that the two adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy’s final grade were plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances,” the report said.

A copy of the report can be found here.

Grew and Sheldrake found that Christel House's initial "C'' prompted changes across the grading formula, but said the changes were applied evenly among other schools.

Education leaders interviewed for the report said they believe the Indianapolis charter school is a top-performing institution, but also said Bennett's formula did not earn their "trust" because of a lack of transparency.

"Through our interviews, we learned that Dr. Bennett had been under considerable pressure to design an accountability system that was not deemed harsh to charter schools or urban schools," they wrote. "In response to such concerns, he repeatedly stated that Christel House Academy, which was widely viewed as a successful charter school in an urban environment, would do well under the new system."

The initial "C'' Christel House received was "a surprise to Dr. Bennett and senior DOE staff," Grew and Sheldrake's report said. Efforts to raise the school's grade were both an attempt to save the credibility of the New Accountability Model and a desire to treat a recognized good school fairly, according to a wide range of testimony.

"Any further motivations underlying these actions are beyond the scope and documentation of this report," Grew and Sheldrake said.

Bennett resigned as Florida's schools commissioner a few days after The Associated Press published emails showing he changed Indiana's school grading formula for Christel House. The school was founded by a prolific donor who has given roughly $2.8 million to Indiana Republicans in the last 15 years.

Bennett said in a statement Friday that the report is "vindication" against "political attacks" levied against him.

"The report clearly shows that accusations of manipulation of the A-F system for a single school are false and malicious," 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."

Grew and Sheldrake said Friday that the report does not "exonerate" or "vindicate" Bennett, nor condemn him. They said it only explains how his team changed the grading formula.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said he hopes the findings allow education leaders to move forward with a rewrite of the school grading formula, which was called for months before Bennett's emails were published.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he did not think "benchmark" schools, like Christel House, would be used in the new system to set the formula.

“Gov. [Mike] Pence commends the work of the independent, bipartisan task force charged to examine Indiana’s A-F School Accountability Model," the governor's office said in a prepared statement. "John Grew and Bill Sheldrake conducted a thorough review and  demonstrated professionalism throughout the process. The Governor looks forward to working with legislative leadership, the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the newly created Accountability System Review Panel, which will make recommendations for the State Board of Education’s consideration regarding revisions to the A-F model as required under House Enrolled Act 1427.”

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  • Oh Kathleen
    How dare emails be revealed that indict Bennett with his own words?!? Egads!
  • Time for Ritz to apologize, resign
    Glenda Ritz intentionally and maliciously leaked emails to the media to suggest that Tony Bennett inappropriately changed the accountability grade of the Christal House school. This report documents that that did not happen. Now the media and the public should call for Ritz to apologize and resign.
    • It would help to publish the criteria!!
      I can't decide without someone actually listing the grading criteria and how it was changed to favor (or better represent student achievements) charter schools. Does anyone actually have the criteria?
    • Justin
      There was no reason to appoint anyone to conduct another review. It has already been independently reviewed and the facts were revealed. The Repubs can't make up their own story after the fact. Of course, this is what the Republican party is all about. Change the rules if the game isn't going your way!
    • Article was revised after published this morning
      When I read the article it ended with the paragraph discussing Bennett leaving his position in FL. The author clearly added the link to the report and the final paragraph after reading our comments. Don't show your ignorance before knowing all of the facts.
    • distrust at all levels
      There were two people appointed to do an independent review and people are crying foul. If there would have been an entire panel selected for the same job that two people did, then people would say look at all this government waste. Sounds to me that the general population isn't happy with the idea of Government or any of its decisions. There is a major problem/issue of trust with government and it is not attainable.
      • Bias
        It does not look good when one group of leaders appoint analyst's paid for my that group to give an opinion. Do they belong to the same country club to?
      • 'Trust me' ... sure
        This report is such a joke. Just read the e-mails....oh, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.
      • Love it
        Nice circular reasoning. Just because the same standard was "applied consistently" doesn't mitigate the fact that the standard was altered to benefit one school. That's like saying I didn't cheat because I let the entire class copy my paper.
      • Jumped ship...
        Haha Jim, for an innocent & "Railroaded" man he sure jumped ship pretty quickly!
      • Riiiiiiiight
        In other news, the National Bankers Association finds no fault in banking protocols leading up to the recent Banking Crisis and subsequent bailout. Moreover, OJ insists he is still not guilty.
      • Public Opinion vs Reality
        So, the poor B****** stepped down so for NO reason. The Covair turned out to be a safe car as well. People shouldn't jump to conclusions. I didn't like the guy, but this was a railroad job.
      • This "Report" Stinks
        Everything that Republican Gov. Pence is doing lately is really soiling the GOP in Indiana. This report doesn't line up with ANY of the facts.
      • Who?
        George, you asked who were these guys. Well in the article it states one was John Grew who was Frank O'Bannon's EA for education. Last time I check the late Governor was a Democrat and so was Mr. Grew. All of you Dems need to read before you shout conspiricy from the hill.
        • republican in disbelief
          Laughable...not all of us in this state are stupid...Bennett stepped down immediately because he was caught red-handed and the good ol boys club needed him to so they can continue their charade.
        • A New Low for Republicans
          Who were the incompetent Republican general assembly leaders and who were the two analysts? Where are the names of these idiots? And are they really ignorant enough to think that anyone would believe their BS?
        • LOL
          "The Indiana General Assembly's Republican leaders appointed two analysts".......That is all you need to know about the quality and impartiality of this "review." What a JOKE.
        • What!?!?!
          LOL, Tony SAYS in that email to change the grade! WOW.
        • Just Read the Emails...
          Wow, this audit is wrong. Just read the emails: http://tampabay.com/tbprojects/dcloud/dcloud-template.html?doc=741681-bennett-emails smh

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