The fiasco of Tony Bennett’s A-F system continues on. Last fall his flawed system was a prime factor in his electoral defeat and now emails revealing his request for a higher grade for Christel House Academy have led to his resignation from his position in Florida.
Yesterday at the State Board of Education meeting, Glenda Ritz said that the A-F probe requested by Governor Pence has “verified manipulation”. She gave no details pending completion of the full review being done in concert with external reviewers appointed by Speaker Bosma and Senate President Pro Temp Long. Legislative leaders asked their reviewers to report by September 2nd.
The flawed system continues to hurt schools that were not singled out for an upwardly revised grade like Dr. Bennett’s favored school.
Few commenting on this story week have clearly stated that the General Assembly voided this A-F system and mandated a new system by November 15, 2013. Calls for public confidence in the current system are futile now that we have learned that system was not only fatally flawed but was administered in a totally inappropriate manner. The schools of Indiana have had to endure a full year of invalid and now thoroughly discredited letter grades bringing untold damage to school reputations as they engage in high stakes local competition with voucher schools. The current A-F system should never be used again.
A Flawed System and HEA 1427
Last spring, long before the recent revelations of Tom LoBianca’s Associated Press story about Dr. Bennett’s emails, a consensus had emerged in the General Assembly that the A-F system was flawed and had to be replaced.
In Senate Bill 416 initiated by Senator Charbonneau and later sponsored by Senator Yoder, language was introduced in the Senate Education Committee on February 20th saying that the current A-F rule “is void. The publisher of the Indiana Administrative Code and Indiana Register shall remove this rule from the Indiana Administrative Code.” Sen. Banks began the discussion of the bill by saying he has personally become convinced that Indiana’s A-F system is flawed. The Senate Education Committee unanimously passed the bill that day 11-0.
Senate Bill 416 was later withdrawn, but its language landed in House Enrolled Act 1427 which passed the House 53-45 and the Senate 34-15 and was signed by Gov. Pence:
“Sec. 5. (a) Not later than November 15, 2013, the state board shall establish new categories or designations of school performance under the requirements of this chapter to replace 511 IAC 6.2-6. “Since 511 IAC 6.2-6 is the A-F system, the law seems totally clear. We are to have a new A-F system by November 15th. The law reads on:
“The new standards of assessing school performance:These points correct the main flaw of the current system in using statistics in the Indiana Growth Model which compared the performance of students to other students, metrics known in the statistics world as “norm-referenced” measures. The preferred metrics measure students against fixed standards, known as “criterion-referenced” measures. The new law continues:
(1) must be based on a measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency; and
(2) may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”
511 IAC 6.2-6 is void on the effective date of the emergency or final rules adopted under this section.Thus, the new A-F rules could be adopted even before November 15, 2013 if the State Board passes an emergency rule.
Given the animosity toward and the general disrespect for the current A-F system on the part of the public, I thought that rules would be hammered out this fall in time to hand out letter grades for 2012-13 using the new system. Who would want to see another year of school letter grades using the old discredited system? It is not even clear that the growth statistics of the Indiana Growth Model, based on the bell shaped curve and processed by an out-of-state contractor, would be available for use this fall to comply with Dr. Bennett’s A-F system.
The Response of Governor Pence
Thus, Dr. Bennett’s A-F system was completely discredited and scheduled for demolition by the Republican-led General Assembly last spring. All this occurred by a vote on April 26th, long before any charges of letter grade manipulation were raised by Tom LoBianco’s story on July 28th. Given this history, the response by Gov. Pence reported in the Star on August 2nd is hard to understand:
“The Governor supports our A-to-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system, said Pence’s spokeswoman, Kara Brooks.” (Indianapolis Star, August 2, 2013, page A4)
Does that sound like the statement of the person who signed HEA 1427 into law, calling for a totally new A-F system by November 15th? Does he support our A-to-F grading system when the Republican majority in the General Assembly didn’t and passed a law to change it?
Now we know through email revelations that the flawed A-F system was also administered in a flawed and unjust way.
Anomalies Ad Infinitum
Dr. Bennett’s defense last week was that Christel House Academy’s “C” represented an anomaly in the system that needed to be repaired with last minute changes. The Star (August 2, page A4) quoted Dr. Bennett as saying, “We were watching all the anomalies. We were trying to get it right.”
His flawed system, however, had many anomalies, but he only responded to the one involving his biggest donor’s school. Consider a few other anomalies that he ignored:
1) National Blue Ribbon SchoolsIf you ask any school leader in Indiana, they will share their own anomaly about a particular unjust letter grade, many related to counting English tests given to recent immigrant students who don’t speak English or to counting test scores for cognitively disabled students as if they were not disabled.
Crown Point’s MacArthur Elementary, after years of tremendous success in an attendance area with over 50% free lunch, was nominated by Dr. Bennett’s Indiana Department of Education and approved by the US Department of Education for the coveted National Blue Ribbon School award in August, 2012, the culmination of relentless effort by a dedicated staff. Spring test scores in 2012 once again showed well above 90% passing on ISTEP, confirming the school’s national award. The principal and staff were shocked to learn in September, 2012, that Dr. Bennett’s A-F system gave this nationally recognized school a B rather than an A, tarnishing its national award winning status. Direct verbal appeals to Dr. Bennett and a formal written appeal made no difference.
2) Early Childhood Schools
Liberty Early elementary in MSD Decatur got a D. It serves only pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students. These students have not been tested on ISTEP+. So how did they get a D? In Dr. Bennett’s flawed system, early childhood centers are given grades based on the average of the elementary schools that they feed students to. The elementary students are tested in grades 3 through 6, so Liberty Early elementary was graded on the performance of students that the school had not enrolled for three years.
3) Reconstituted Schools
William Bell School #60 in the Indianapolis Public Schools got an F. It serves only K through 2 students who have not taken ISTEP+. It reopened in the fall of 2012 as a Reggio magnet school under the direct guidance of Butler University. Nearly all of the students were new under the new magnet program philosophy, yet under the feeder school rules based on students from past years, Dr. Bennett celebrated its rebirth offering a new philosophical option by giving it an F.
4) Injustice to High Scoring Students
One frustrated principal in northern Indiana had a bright 5th grader who has scored Pass+ since the 3rd grade who in 2012 scored 39 scale score points above the Pass+ cut off score for English/Language Arts. Yet, based on the bell curve statistics the student was marked as “Low Growth.” The principal asked “How is that possible?” with an added comment “It is so maddening.”
5) Perfect Scores
A central Indiana superintendent and principal verified that an elementary student with a perfect score for two years in a row was labeled as “Low Growth.” An appeal to IDOE on made no difference.
Yes, that said “perfect score.”
Given this record of flaws, the law dismantling the current A-F system and now emails indicating the rules were manipulated, it would be a travesty to use these rules one more year to grade our schools using the 2013 ISTEP+ data. Schools should not be damaged again by this flawed system that was apparently easily manipulated to help favored schools. The peer based statistics should be sent packing and never confuse Indiana parents again.
Going forward, any plan to use Dr. Bennett’s discredited metrics one more time should be abandoned. Emergency rules should be in place “no later than November 15, 2013” in accordance with HEA 1427. Last year, school letter grades were announced on October 31st. New rules need to be in place by that time this year to report grades for the 2012-13 school year if state leaders expect the public to regain any respect for A-F school letter grades in Indiana.
This ongoing fiasco must end.
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Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:
I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.