by Colleen Flaherty
When former Indiana superintendent of schools Tony Bennett came under fire for changing the grade of a privately owned charter school run by a political ally, it seemed like his A-F grading system was less about helping the students and families of Indiana and more about helping his biggest donors.
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In response, the Republican leaders in the Indiana General Assembly called for a study of the grading system. The findings were issued today.
The final report concluded that grades were given hastily due to Bennett’s new school evaluation program having an inadequate framework. Grades were handed out with very little transparency, which was evident when it was later revealed Christel House, a school run by a top GOP donor, had its grade switched from a “C” to an “A.”
“At the end of the day and this report, the Bennett administration’s process and the substance of its model contributed to where we are today — where few believe in nor give credence to a single letter grade to judge the work of our schools,” said Teresa Meredith, classroom teacher and president of the Indiana State Teachers Association.
The report found that “Dr. Bennett expressed surprise and dissatisfaction” because of the low grade, which “prompted an energetic response to find solutions to what was perceived to be an unfair and inaccurate result.” After changing the grade twice, the same treatment was given to other schools with similar circumstances.
Additionally, public schools did not take to the new grading system because it was crafted by Bennett, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and GOP powerbrokers — all of whom went out of their way to diminish teachers publicly — rather than educators and community leaders.
According to the final report, “a significant portion of the educational community did not . . . trust in the accuracy or fairness of the Bennett Rule’s Metrics, did not believe the that the metrics represented essential accountability constructs, and did not believe that the Rule treated different school formats [public, private, charter] equally and fairly.”
Said Meredith, “Educators’ voices must be a part of this process moving forward.
“If Indiana’s grading system is going to provide reliable, valid or useful data to teachers, administrators or even to parents, then it must be based on multiple factors, must be developed in the light of day and must be developed with the help of practitioners who understand that students’ mastery can be demonstrated in many ways.”
Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath maintained that the A-F grading system doesn’t work for Hoosier students.
“The fact is people will never fully trust grades doled out by politicians for political purposes,” said Pelath. “That’s why some communities in Indiana are pledging to ignore them altogether.”
Recently, the Fort Wayne school board passed a resolution to no longer recognize the A-F grading system for its schools. Not only are the grades given with little collaboration or oversight, they take money from struggling schools in economically hurting areas.
“The grades are for rewarding friends and punishing the weak,” said Pelath. “Other investigations are continuing. When they’re all done and we add them up, maybe we’ll slow down on the experiments and remind ourselves that education is about the kids, not the powerful. There isn’t anything from this episode that will help make a child score better on a math test.”
Bennett, who recently resigned from his post as Florida education commissioner amid public and professional ridicule, is part of a national movement of so-called education “reformers” who are attempting to privatize education and undermine public schools. A-F grading has been roundly criticized as another way to prop up unaccountable voucher schools and direct taxpayer dollars to private institutions at the expense of students.
“We cannot continue to allow this system to disparage children, teachers, schools and communities,” said Meredith.