Flanner House charter school to close after cheating allegations

The Flanner House Elementary charter school will close on Sept. 11 after allegations of cheating on the state standardized ISTEP test, Indianapolis Greg Ballard’s office announced Thursday.

The board of the K-6 school voted Wednesday night to close, and Ballard’s office, which authorized the school to operate, supported that decision. Ballard spokesman Marc Lotter would not say if the mayor’s office had requested that the board close the school.

“We made the school and the board aware that the Mayor’s office does not tolerate these violations of academic integrity,” Lotter said.

It is the second time in the past two years that a charter school overseen by Ballard’s office has closed at the beginning of a new school year. In 2012, it forced The Project School to close due to poor finances and poor academic results, sparking bitter complaints from Project School parents.

“It’s definitely not the ideal situation,” Lotter said. He said the school and the Mayor’s office will host information sessions for parents at the school on both Thursday and Friday evenings. Next week, they intend to stage a school fair to help families choose a new school for their children.

Flanner House, located at 2424 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St., has 176 students enrolled this school year. The school was among the first charter schools in Indanapolis to open, in 2002.

A phone message left for Flanner House principal Latika Warthaw was not immediately returned on Thursday morning. The school’s web site was no longer functioning Thursday morning.

Flanner House Elementary is a separate organization from Flanner House Inc., a community center, from which Flanner House Elementary school rents space.

Flanner House’s ISTEP scores in 2013 improved significantly over previous years’ results, which prompted the Ballard administration to scrutinize its tests. The Ballard administration then asked the Indiana Department of Education to investigate. The department released its findings on Aug. 18, sparking Wednesday’s vote.

On Flanner House’s 2013 ISTEP test booklets, the Education Department found a high number of test answers changed from wrong to right, with some of the changes appearing to be made by adults rather than students. The Education Department also found adult handwriting mixed in with students’ handwriting on the written portions of the tests.

The proportion of Flanner House students passing both the math and reading portions of the ISTEP test rose from 53 percent in 2012 to 95 percent in 2013. In 2014, the pass rate fell back down to 57 percent.

In 2014, the Education Department found that Flanner House teachers had used portions of the ISTEP test materials to prepare students in advance of taking the test.

Those findings, combined with the lack of an alternate explanation for Flanner House’s sudden rise in scores, led the Education Department to invalidate Flanner House’s 2013 and 2014 test results. However, the Education Department did not recommend that the school be closed.

“Flanner House staff members were unable to articulate the specific reasons and instructional practices that led to a dramatic increase in scores,” wrote Michele Walker, the director of the office of student assessment at the Education Department, in a memo to the Ballard administration.

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