Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Indianapolis Charter Closes Amid ISTEP+ Cheating Allegations

Updated 12:58 p.m.: 

A charter sponsored by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office is closing after allegations of cheating on ISTEP+ tests.

The Indiana Department of Education found a number of issues with ISTEP+ scores and testing practices at Flanner House Elementary School in Indianapolis.

Eric Zelenka / Flickr

The Indiana Department of Education found a number of issues with ISTEP+ scores and testing practices at Flanner House Elementary School in Indianapolis.

Ballard on Thursday morning accepted the decision by Flanner House Elementary Charter School’s Board of Directors to surrender its charter and close the school, effective September 11.

The Mayor’s Office of Education Innovation began investigating the school after it showed “extraordinarily high gains” on ISTEP+ tests in 2013 and 2014. OEI notified the Indiana Department of Education, requesting they conduct a follow-up investigation. IDOE has since invalidated Flanner House’s ISTEP+ results, as well as stripped the school of its “A” grade and four-star school award, received for high passing rates.

According to a press release from Ballard’s office, state officials found:

  • An unusually high number of changes from wrong to right answers on the school’s 2013 ISTEP+ tests.
  • Adult handwriting in student answers on the 2013 test.
  • Students were given test questions prior to test administration in 2014.
  • Teachers revised and edited student responses to real ISTEP questions prior to administering the 2014 test.
  • Flanner House failed to follow several testing security procedures, in particular forging testing integrity agreements in 2013.

The City and State are also referring information from their investigation to the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office to determine whether criminal charges may be warranted.

“Cheating simply will not be tolerated in our schools,” Ballard said in a statement. “Our team is now squarely focused on helping the students and families at Flanner House Elementary quickly find another high-quality public, private or charter school.”

OEI and Flanner House Elementary will hold informational meetings with parents from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday at the school, officials said. An enrollment fair is also planned for next week with nearby public, private, parochial and charter schools to give parents information to re-enroll their students. A full-time OEI staff member will assist families during the transition.

“It’s Mayor Ballard’s focus that all of the attention now shift to these children, 176 students, and do everything that we can to make sure that they get into educational opportunity that best suits their needs,” says Marc Lotter, Director of Communications for Ballard’s office.

School has been in session at Flanner House for about 3 weeks now. Classes will continue as normal until the school closes on September 11.

Lotter says over the coming months the OEI will look to see if other charter school operators might be interested in filling the vacancy left by Flanner House with another charter school for the neighborhood.

Chalkbeat Indiana’s Scott Elliott took a closer look at Flanner House’s ISTEP+ scores:

Last, year, Flanner House School made one of the biggest test score gains in the state when its ISTEP English and math passing rate jumped 42 points to 95 percent.

That put Flanner House – whose students almost all…qualify for free or reduced-price lunch – in the top .01 percent statewide for the year. It outscored all but two schools in Carmel, for example, the state’s top-performing district where just 7.6 percent of students are considered poor.

Before 2013, Flanner House had never seen more than 65 percent of students pass the state exam. School leaders said at the time there had been no major changes in the student population, teaching staff, or school leadership.

Principal Latika Warthaw last year credited curriculum changes and better use of data for the big jump in scores.

ISTEP+ results for this year showed a considerably lower passing rate at Flanner House – 56.5 percent passing, down about 39 points.

Mayor Ballard’s office oversees more than 30 other charter schools in Indianapolis, which are monitored on an annual basis on managerial, financial and academic measures. Ballard has the authority to close a school if it fails to live up to academic performance standards.

Lotter says Mayor Ballard takes academic integrity very seriously. He’s the only operator so far to have closed two schools now for academic performance.

“We expect very high standards, that’s why most charter school operators seek out the mayor’s charter school authorization,” Lotter says. “We have a very rigorous performance matrix, and the schools are showing great improvement, really helping to advance the education of many thousands of students in the Indianapolis area.”


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