Indiana News

Critics Call for End of Indiana's School Grading System

AFT, Dem leader say Bennett controversy confirms longstanding doubts

8/1/2013


AFT Indiana president Rick Muir (WIBC.com photo: Eric Berman)

Indiana's second-largest teachers' union wants the A-through-F grading scale for schools scrapped, amid revelations of behind-the-scenes tinkering with the formula that produced the grades.

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AFT Indiana president Rick Muir charges the entire grading system was designed to "set up [public schools] for failure" in order to funnel money to charter and private schools. He argues the intense maneuvering to ensure the final formula would produce an A for Indy's Christel House Academy charter school proves the grades can't be trusted.

The uproar prompted former Indiana school superintendent Tony Bennett to resign Thursday as Florida's education commissioner, a job he took after losing his Indiana reelection bid.

Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) also wants the system scrapped. He says he's had doubts from the beginning about reducing a complex organization to a single letter grade. And Lanane says the state should review the contracts of private school operators who took control of five Indianapolis and Gary schools labeled as consistently failing under the previous grading formula. He notes some of those operators are for-profit companies, and warns they may have a motive to manipulate scores.

Legislators in both parties, led by Senate President Pro Tem David Long (R-Fort Wayne), have called for an outside audit of last year's grades to confirm schools got the marks they deserved.

The state probably doesn't have the authority to suspend the system without legislative action. Legislators this year gave the letter grades the force of law, while assigning the State Board of Education and Bennett's successor, Glenda Ritz, to review whether to change how those grades are calculated.

Governor Pence has asked Ritz to review the allegations surrounding Christel House's grade and the changes to the formula, and report her findings at next Wednesday's board meeting. Muir says that's not enough time.

Muir says AFT supports school accountability, but says the system needs to be devised transparently and collaboratively. And he says the emphasis should be on helping schools improve instead of stamping them as failures.

Bennett maintains the changes to the formula were appropriate, and came in response to a "statistical anomaly" involving Christel House and other schools which have high school students but not 12th graders. That makes it impossible for them to compensate for poor test scores with strong graduation rates.

Bennett's asked Indiana inspector general David Thomas to review the allegations, and predicts it will confirm there were no legal or ethical violations in crafting the formula.

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