John Grew and William Sheldrake provide the most complete account to date on how the Indiana Department of Education struggled to implement A-to-F school grading last year. They also offer solid recommendations as the state moves to a new system in 2014.
But their report doesn’t put to rest one question: When and why did former state Superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff remove a “ceiling” on the grade points that schools could earn for math or English test-score improvement, a move that ended up raising grades for 165 schools? Did they make the change to boost the grade for Christel House Academy, a favored Indianapolis charter school? Or was it a broad policy decision that officials just forgot to make public.
The Grew-Sheldrake report says former DOE officials claim the decision was made before the State Board of Education adopted the A-to-F rule in February 2012.
“According to DOE management staff, the removal of the growth caps was indicated by the language of the final approved rule, but erroneously not implemented in the computer programming of the model,” the report says. “This mistake was found in the final weeks prior to the embargoed release of the grades’ data to the schools on September 19, 2012.”
It appears to be true that the ceiling was not included in the language of the rule. But here are three reasons to suspect the decision may not have happened the way DOE management staff say.
First, an FAQ page explaining the point ceiling remains on the Internet (See items No. 11 and 29). According to the page’s document information, it was created in March 2012, a month after the SBE approved the rule. Continue reading
Fort Wayne Community Schools took a bold step in deciding not to recognize school grades awarded under the A-to-F system created by former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett. But will others follow the lead of Indiana’s largest school district?
There seems to be considerable agreement the grading system is flawed. But almost 900 Indiana schools were awarded an A last year. Those schools have a pretty strong incentive to think the system got it right, at least where they are concerned.
And Bennett’s adjustments to the grading system had the effect of raising grades for more than 160 schools, as NPR State Impact Indiana showed last week. Does that make it less likely that some teachers, parents and elected representatives will shun the system?
A-to-F was looking shaky this summer as a result of the widespread computer disruptions of the state tests that are the main inputs for school grades. Richard Hill, a testing expert hired by the Department of Education, found the disruptions didn’t hurt students’ overall test scores. But individual students may have been affected, Hill conceded. And school officials will say that a handful of scores can make the difference between an A and a B – or between a D and an F.
Then came the revelation that Bennett, as state superintendent, altered the grading system last fall in a way that boosted a charter school run by a campaign donor from a C to an A. Maybe getting an A wasn’t such a badge of honor.
Indiana political leaders aren’t ready to jump ship, however. Continue reading
Jonathan Plucker has been guest-posting this week at Education Week’s Rick Hess Straight Up blog, and it has been great reading for anyone who’s interested in Indiana education politics or education policy in general.
Plucker was director of Indiana University’s Center for Evaluation and Education Policy until last fall, when he returned to his home state to become a professor at the University of Connecticut. He offers an inside take on the email controversies involving former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett, along with original thoughts about teacher preparation, poverty and special education.
// Tony Bennett – Plucker did work for Bennett’s Indiana Department of Education, and he likes Bennett while being blunt about some of the man’s faults. Notably, he helped develop the initial framework for the state’s A-to-F school grading system, the subject of the Bennett email flap. “IDOE staff eventually took our model in a different direction, one I didn’t agree with,” he writes, downplaying the frustration that he no doubt felt.
// Teacher preparation – We don’t really know a lot about what types of preparation produce the best teachers, he writes. Therefore it makes sense to encourage innovation and let “1,000 flowers bloom” while evaluating what works. He says teachers are professionals and should have some control of what it takes to join the profession.
// Mitch Daniels – This is Plucker’s take on the emails in which Daniels, the former Indiana governor, insisted that students and prospective teachers shouldn’t be exposed to American history according to Howard Zinn. He says attempts at political intimidation are a fact of life when you work in state policy. Continue reading
It was widely reported last week that Tony Bennett boosted the grade for Christel House Academy by finding a way to disregard scores on high-school-level algebra and English assessments. But that only got the school’s grade from a C to a B. How did it get to an A?
Here’s the answer, thanks to Cynthia Roach, director of assessment for Indianapolis Public Schools: Indiana Department of Education staff also removed a “ceiling” that had been used in calculating grades.
This is a pretty big deal. The change improved final grades not only for Christel House but for more than 140 others schools. Some school officials may have been aware of the new approach, but I can’t find evidence that DOE officials discussed it as a policy matter with the State Board of Education or shared it with the public.
Indiana’s grading system gives schools 4 points for an A, 3 points for a B, 2 for a C and so on. Elementary-middle schools get a base grade for the percentage of students who pass ISTEP exams in math and English/language arts. Additionally, they get up to 2 bonus points if a high percentage of certain students show “high growth.” Sub-grades for math and English/language arts are averaged to produce the school’s overall grade.
The state initially put a ceiling of 4 points (an A) on the math or English sub-grade for any school; in other words, a school couldn’t get extra credit for high scores and high growth in the same subject. State board members said this would keep schools from getting an A if they didn’t excel in both math and English. You can see an explanation and the rationale for the ceiling in items No. 11 and 29 from an old FAQ document for the state’s grading metrics. But those items were deleted from the current version of the FAQ.
The ceiling was still in place last summer, according to information provided to school officials at the time. And it was still there when Jon Gubera, the DOE’s chief accountability officer, emailed Bennett with the bad news that Christel House had earned a C. The school’s elementary-middle students earned 3.5 points for their math passing rate and got 1 point for growth, a total math sub-grade of 4.5 But Gubera capped the math score at 4.
Once the ceiling was lifted, however, Christel House had just enough points to meet Bennett’s expectation that the school get an A. Continue reading
Tony Bennett went down defiant and dissembling, insisting he did nothing wrong when he boosted the grade of a charter school run by a political supporter. That’s too bad. Everyone would give him a lot more credit if he owned up to making a mistake.
Bennett resigned Thursday as Florida commissioner of education, saying he didn’t want the state to be distracted by the grade-changing scandal from 2012, when he was Indiana superintendent of public instruction. He blamed “malicious and unfounded reports” and insisted he was only trying to make sure the grading system was fair for all.
“What we did in Indiana was very simple,” Bennett said. “We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools to have their grade truly reflect their performance because they were unfairly penalized for kids they didn’t have in their school. That wasn’t rigging anything. I believe we did the right thing for Indiana schools and Indiana children.”
But the intra-departmental emails that Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco unearthed tell a very different story. Bennett was focused on making sure Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school founded by philanthropist and GOP mega-donor Christel DeHaan, got an A. Christel House initially got a C because its high-school-age students bombed the state algebra exam. But Bennett knew Christel House was an A school – so the scoring system had to be changed.
As Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation writes, “It’s clear from the emails obtained by the AP that he was working backward from a pre-determined outcome in applying the state’s accountability rules to charter schools he favored … That’s the opposite of equal justice under the law.” Carey adds that Bennett crossed a line when he mischaracterized the grading change in a Q&A this week with supporter Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. Continue reading
Former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was some kind of magician. He made dozens of Indianapolis high-school students disappear in order to award an A grade to a charter school founded by a GOP mega-donor.
Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press revealed Monday that Bennett and his Department of Education staff manipulated Indiana’s school grading system to produce an A for Christel House Academy, run by Indianapolis philanthropist Christel DeHaan.
The AP story, relying on email messages obtained under the state’s public-records law, shows Bennett and his top assistants scrambling frantically after they realized highly regarded Christel House was going to get a C under the newly revised grading system.
“I cannot count the number of times we have been in meetings with Christel, The Chamber (of Commerce), Brian Bosma, David Long, and others when I have said that we count Christel House as an A school,” Bennett vented to his assistants in an email on Sept. 13, 2012.
Bosma is speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives. Long is president pro tem of the Indiana Senate. Why do they care what grade a charter school gets? As LoBianco writes, DeHaan “has given more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders.”
Christel House was known as an effective school serving elementary and middle-school students from high-poverty backgrounds. It expanded to ninth grade in 2010 and added 10th-graders in 2011. And in the spring of 2012, its high-school students bombed the state’s end-of-course assessment in algebra. Continue reading
The results are in: Tony Bennett outspent Glenda Ritz by more than 5-to-1 in the 2012 campaign for Indiana superintendent of public instruction.
Ritz, of course, won the election: a shocking upset that got noticed around the country. The Democratic challenger polled 1,332,755 votes to 1,190,716 for Bennett, the Republican incumbent and darling of advocates for market-based education reform.
According to campaign finance reports filed this week, Bennett spent $1,866,741 on his campaign during 2012, an unheard-of sum for a down-ticket race. Ritz spent $341,873, which is closer to what you’d expect for this office.
Bennett has been telling news media that he knew he might lose, because the changes he implemented were difficult but necessary. And it’s true – you don’t raise and spend the kind of money that he did unless you think you’re in a race.
But the outcome was still startling. Candidates just don’t win statewide elections when they are outspent 5-to-1. Ritz pulled it off with an extraordinary grass-roots campaign, unified backing from teachers and their friends and supporters, and innovative use of social media to organize and rally the troops.
Politics watchers will be talking about this one for years.
The New York Times reports that hedge-fund king Daniel S. Loeb is backing the Herbalife company against accusations that it’s a pyramid scheme. That pits him against his friend and rival, William Ackman, in what one source calls a “battle bigger than any sumo pairing.”
Of course, Loeb backed former Indiana Superintendent of Public Education Tony Bennett, too, with a $25,000 campaign contribution. Maybe Herbalife should worry, given the way that turned out.
It should come as no surprise that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett is moving to Florida to take over as that state’s commissioner of education. Hey, I called this one in August. And back then I couldn’t have predicted Bennett would lose the election and be out of a job come January.
Bennett has looked to Florida for inspiration and ideas throughout his tenure as Indiana superintendent. A-to-F grades for schools, dramatic expansion of charter schools, retention for third-graders who don’t pass a reading test – all those Indiana policies were pioneered in the Sunshine State.
So were school vouchers, before the state’s Supreme Court held them to be unconstitutional.
And Bennett has long been a favorite of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He chairs Bush’s Chiefs for Change organization. Two members of the Florida State Board of Education are former Bush chiefs of staff. (The state board appoints the state education commissioner; the board’s members are appointed by the governor). So it makes perfect sense that he would be drawn to Florida, and vice versa. Continue reading
A new study from Texas adds weight to the argument that Indiana should find a way to provide state support for pre-kindergarten programs. The study finds that children who attended state-funded preschools scored better on standardized tests and were less likely to be retained in grade.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas, Rutgers-Camden and the Communities Foundation of Texas carried out the study, which was posted as a working paper by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Educational Research, or CALDER.
This is hardly the first research to find benefits from preschool programs. (See Nobel laureate James Heckman’s site for a bunch of information). But the authors note that many previous studies examined small, intensive programs, such as Perry Preschool in Michigan and the Carolina Abcedarian Project. The CALDER study looks instead at the state preschool program for at-risk children that Texas started in the 1980s. It finds that taking part in the program was associated with increased scores on the math and reading sections of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills and with a decreased likelihood of being retained or being identified as needing special education.
This is just one study, but a key point is that Texas’ program is far from a model program. The National Institute for Early Education Research gives it low marks for funding, class size and staffing ratios. Continue reading