Student Achievement

Indiana School Grades and Tony Bennett: A Few More Issues

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 31, 2013 3 min read
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The story about A-F school grades in Indiana and the former state superintendent Tony Bennett continues to generate more material—the Miami Herald reported that Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott has “been silent” about the future of Tony Bennett as the state’s education commissioner. Then Scott told a TV station in Florida that Bennett has been doing a “great job” but didn’t directly answer a question about Bennett’s job security. He’s been on the job in Florida only since January, and the previous commissioner, Gerard Robinson, quit the job after roughly a year.

“If the governor wants to appeal to moderates across the state, he has to get rid of [Bennett],” said Brian Peterson, a professor at Florida International University and editor of the Miami Education Review online newsletter, told the Herald. “If he doesn’t, the message is that the game is rigged, and that public schools are going to be treated differently from charter schools.”

It’s not entirely unclear how the situation will shake out politically. Remember, Bennett’s potential misconduct concerns Indiana, not Florida, and there hasn’t been corresponding evidence raised that Florida’s A-F system has been potentially compromised in the same way that Indiana’s may have been on Bennett’s watch (although there have been corresponding worries raised in Florida given the Associated Press story about Bennett). Indiana state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, who beat Bennett in his reelection bid last year, stated July 30 that there is an “ongoing examination” of what occurred in 2012 to see if every school got the grade it deserved.

Here are a few more highlights or lingering questions from the controversy:

• Something that does not appear to be in dispute, even though Bennett has denied any wrongdoing regarding the 2012 grade for the Christel House Academy charter school in Indianapolis, is the performance of the school’s 10th graders on the Algebra I end-of-course test. You may recall from the emails published by the Associated Press that Jon Gubera, Indiana’s chief accountability officer at the time, wrote that the school’s “terrible” 10th grade scores on that test were the “bottom line” in the school initially earning a C grade.

The emails in AP reporter Tom LoBianco’s story have Gubera stating that the pass rate for those students at Christel House was 33 percent. But separate data in a Microsoft Excel file from the Indiana department of education appears to show an even a lower pass rate of 24 percent. That is based on a relatively small sample size of 31 students (only six passed).(The Indiana state report card website also shows a pass rate of 24 percent.) It’s not clear if Gubera just misstated the pass rate, but the statewide pass rate for public school 10th graders taking the Algebra I end-of-course test for 2011-12 was 43 percent, either 10 or 19 points above the success rate of Christel House 10th graders.

Some might question whether a school with a 33 percent (or 24 percent) pass rate on an important course for graduation like Algebra I deserves to be designated an A school. Again, we’re not discussing a huge number of test-takers, but these are the students in the final grade at the school, at least at the time. For a comparison, on the Biology I end-of-course test, 22 percent of Christel House students passed, nine out of 41 total test-takers, all of them in the 9th grade. This compares with a statewide pass rate of 48 percent for 9th graders in public schools.

• If you look at the Indiana education department’s report card for Christel House for the 2011-12 school year, you’ll notice that there is no end-of-course test data displayed. Now, the other school mentioned specifically by name in the AP emails was John Marshall Community High School, a traditional school in Indianapolis. You can see that this school has end-of-course testing results specifically displayed in the Indiana department website.

I’ve asked the state if there’s any explanation for that. The U.S. Department of Education requires all student-achievement data to be posted.

If you get to the relevant data in the school report card, John Marshall, on overall Algebra I EOC performance for 10th graders, had a 13 percent pass rate. In terms of overall performance, John Marshall received an F grade from the state.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.