Education

September 9, 2013

Report: Changes to Indiana school grades were ‘plausible’

An independent review found “it was necessary” for former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to tweak Indiana’s school grading formula while he served as that state’s top education official.

Former state Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said he felt “vindicated” by a new report on a grade-changing flap in Indiana that led to his resignation in Florida.

The independent review, commissioned by the Indiana Legislature, found “it was necessary” for Bennett to tweak Indiana’s school grading formula while serving as the state’s top education official.

Bennett drew heavy criticism for the changes, which became the subject of media reports after he lost reelection in Indiana and was named education commissioner in Florida. Emails showed that Bennett had scrambled to change the grade for Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school run by an influential Republican Party donor.

But Bennett said he was addressing a flaw in Indiana’s new school grading model, and that the change helped at least a dozen other schools.

Policy Analytics, the firm hired to do the review, found that the Indiana Department of Education had “underestimated the administrative and technical challenges” associated with developing a new school accountability system.

“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,” they wrote.

The authors also suggested Indiana state leaders move forward with this year’s school grades — and be transparent and collaborative as they work to modify the school accountability rules in the future.

Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and a Bennett supporter, was pleased by the report’s findings.

“Good report for Indiana’s A-F system and @Tony_Bennett,” she posted on Twitter.

Bennett said he had no regrets about stepping down from his job in Florida.

“I don’t say that because I don’t miss my job, because I do,” he said. “But Gov. [Rick] Scott deserved more in an education commissioner than I could have given the last 30 days.”

The Florida Board of Education has yet to name a permanent successor for Bennett. Former Chancellor Pam Stewart is serving as interim commissioner.

The education board meets on Sept. 17.

Kathleen McGrory can be reached at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.S

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