State Lawmakers Call for A-F Review

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August 5, 2013 —

INDIANAPOLIS – Legislative leaders announced Friday that an independent task force will review Indiana’s A-F grading system for schools in light of allegations that the state’s former education chief manipulated the formula to help a school he had touted.

The General Assembly passed a law earlier this year ordering the State Board of Education to revamp the system.

But House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said Friday that enough questions have been raised about 2012 schools grades to warrant an independent look – in addition to the ongoing analysis by education officials.

They’ve asked John Grew, executive director of state relations and policy analysis at Indiana University, and Bill Sheldrake, president and founder of Policy Analytics, to lead the task force. They are to report their findings by Labor Day.

“The most important thing we can do moving forward is to have an independent and fair assessment of the A-F school grading process,” Long said in a statement Friday. “This will help ensure that everyone, from our schools and teachers to our parents and students, can have their confidence restored in this past year’s outcomes.”

He called Grew and Sheldrake “highly respected policy leaders who should have the confidence of Hoosiers everywhere.”

Grew is a former legislative fiscal analyst and Sheldrake is a former deputy state budget director and served as president of the Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute.

The announcement by legislative leaders comes one day after former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett resigned from a similar post in Florida following accusations that he rigged Indiana’s A-F grading system to help Christel House Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis that he had helped up as an example of excellence.

Bennett has vehemently denied wrongdoing and insisted that he was not focusing on one school. He said the changes were meant to better reflect grades for institutions that served elementary, middle and high school students in one school.

But the emails uncovered by The Associated Press discuss only Christel House, which was to receive a C under the original grading formula, due largely to poor 10th grade algebra scores. Changes made by Bennett’s office in the days before the scores were released raised that grade to an A.

The AP quoted a Bennett email to his then-chief of staff Heather Neal saying that, “They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work.”

Neal is now legislative director for Gov. Mike Pence, who has asked the Department of Education – now under the helm of Democrat Superintendent Glenda Ritz – to review the 2012 grades and ensure they are accurate.

Ritz has said that review is underway, as well as work to overhaul the A-F grading scale, which is used as part of teacher evaluations and can lead to a state takeover of a school.

The new independent task force will be charged with:

  • Evaluating the previous A-F assessment tool.
  • Determining its validity.
  • Ascertaining the fairness of previous grades given to schools.
  • Determining whether manipulations of the system occurred.
  • Making recommendations to the State Board of Education and the General Assembly as to what next steps may be appropriate.

“It is imperative that we assess the previous metric, and ensure that it is fair, accurate and uniformly applied,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis. “As we move forward, it is our hope that this task force’s findings can help the State Board of Education develop a new system that bases assessments on growth and achievement, as we always intended.”

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