Public records quest meets dead end

My obsessive quest to uncover the whole story behind the 2012 Christel House Academy grade-change saga has apparently come to an end. And not a happy one.

One year, one month and 22 days after I filed a public-records request, the Indiana Department of Education responded. “After review of your records request, it was determined the Department does not maintain the records you are requesting,” legal assistant Leslie-Ann James said via email.

Oh, well.

The request was for certain DOE staff emails concerning the A-to-F school grading system that was being rolled out in 2012. The goal was to figure out when and why the department got rid of a “ceiling” on the points schools could earn for English or math test scores or student growth. This has never been explained to my satisfaction.

Remember that Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco unearthed DOE emails last summer that showed then-Superintendent of Public Education freaking out because Christel House, a highly regarded Indianapolis charter school, was going to get a C under the new grading system. Department staff scrambled to make changes, and Christel House ended up with an A. Officials decided to ignore test scores for the school’s high-school students. But that only pushed its grade to a B.

How did it get to an A? As Cynthia Roach, director of assessment for Indianapolis Public Schools, pointed out, the additional bump had to come from getting rid of the points ceiling – which was intended to ensure that a school wouldn’t get an A if its math or English performance wasn’t up to snuff.

When Bill Sheldrake and John Grew investigated the grade-change events for state legislative leaders, they were told the points ceiling wasn’t a factor – that it was never was part of the school grading system. But three bits of circumstantial evidence suggested it was:

  • The online FAQ explaining how grades were calculated wasn’t changed to drop the reference to a points ceiling until September 2012, as the Christel House grade was being debated.
  • Mike Pettibone, a member of the State Board of Education, objected to the points ceiling in February 2012 when the board adopted the school-grade rule. No one contradicted him.
  • Most convincingly, Jon Gubera, then the chief accountability officer for the Department of Education, imposed the ceiling when he calculated Christel House would get a C.

I had hoped departmental emails would shine light on what happened. And I’m disappointed the Department of Education took over a year to decide it doesn’t have the records.

Arguably it’s all water under the bridge. But as I wrote in August, the Christel House grade change was a big deal and a national news story. It would be a shame never to know the whole truth.

There’s no choice but to take the DOE’s word on faith when it says the records don’t exist. It’s quite possible they don’t. Maybe DOE staff didn’t discuss the points ceiling via email. Or maybe the ceiling wasn’t part of the equation – and Gubera was wrong when he said Christel House would get a C.

Maybe we’ll never know.

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7 thoughts on “Public records quest meets dead end

  1. Hey, guess what. I went back to the PDF document, downloaded it, looked under file, properties, and guess what I found. Both edits were made by user “dscott”. If we can just figure out which former DOE official that is we’ve got a lead.

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