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Independent Task Force Hired To Review A-F System

A list of schools shows the state letter grade they received last year.

A growing list of state officials want a review of the A-F school grading system. Governor Mike Pence has asked the Department of Education to conduct a timely investigation, saying it is necessary to restore confidence in the system, and The House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem announced Friday that two policy analysts will be conducting an independent assessment.

This comes one day after former state superintendent Tony Bennett resigned from his post in Florida after admitting that, during his time in Indiana, he boosted the score of a school operated by an influential Republican donor.

“What we did in Indiana was very simple,” Bennett said Thursday during a press conference in Tallahassee. “We found a statistical anomaly that did not allow 13 schools, I want to emphasize that because there has been a focus on one school, but did not allow 13 schools to have their grade truly reflect their performance because they were unfairly penalized for kids that they didn’t have in their school.  That wasn’t rigging anything.”

Bennett said he believes the decision to change the grade of Christel House Academy from a C to an A was the right thing to do for Indiana schools and children.

Indiana governor Mike Pence encouraged the Department of Education Thursday to complete a thorough review of last year’s results.

“The Governor supports our A-F grading system and believes that the people of Indiana should have confidence in the integrity of that system,” Pence’s press secretary said in a statement.

In a statement, Senate President Pro Tem David Long said an independent review is necessary to restore confidence in the grading system.

“The most important thing we can do moving forward is to have an independent and fair assessment of the A-F school grading process,” Sen. Long said. “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.”

John Grew, Executive Director of State Relations and Policy Analysis at Indiana University, and Bill Sheldrake, President and founder of Policy Analytics, will conduct the review.  They’re charged with – evaluating the A-F model, determining its validity, whether the grades schools received in 2012 were fair, and what results were manipulated.  They will also make recommendations to the State Board of Education and the General Assembly about next steps.

As the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Legislative Council, Senator Long and Speaker Bosma have pledged to support the task force’s endeavors with funds from the Legislative Council.

“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,” said Speaker Brian Bosma in a statement.

Ashlyn Nelson is an education policy professor at Indiana University. She says the debate shows how difficult it is to establish an accountability system that’s fair to all schools.

“I think this particular controversy really illustrates the fact that we don’t really know how to accurately assess the quality of schools using a simplistic measure like an A-F system, and if we do attach very high stakes to these, there’s always the chance that we’re punishing the wrong schools or rewarding the wrong schools.”

Grew and Sheldrake have until September to complete their review.

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