Monday, September 09, 2013

Does Legislative Report Really Vindicate Tony Bennett In Grade-Fixing Scheme?

Supporters of former Supt. of Education Tony Bennett immediately haled the release of a legislative report last week as vindicating Bennett and his office in a scheme to rig the system for grading the performance of schools so that a charter school founded by his largest campaign contributor would receive an "A" instead of a "C" under the grading system his office devised. The legislative report confirms that changes in the original formula, which bumped Christel Academy's grade from a "C" to an "A", was equally applied to all similarly-situated schools. That finding, however, should come as no surprise. The critics' beef with the actions of Bennett's office was that it ignored concerns raised by other schools that the original grading system was flawed and was being rushed into implementation. It wasn't until Bennett's office discovered that his favorite charter school wouldn't fare well under the grading system that his office acted to modify the system. This seems to be the point columnist Lesley Weidenbener makes in a column this weekend in the Courier-Journal:
. . . According to the report from William Sheldrake and John Grew — a bipartisan pair of well-respected, former budget and policy officials — the Indiana Department of Education “under-estimated administrative and technical challenges associated with developing the new administrative rule, computer programming and testing necessary to implement the new rule, and obtaining feedback” on the new system.
That’s not a surprise. Educators and administrators had been complaining prior to last year’s release of A-F grades that the system wouldn’t accurately reflect the work going on at their schools. At the time, that might have seemed like excuses meant to distract from poor performance. But it turns out, those school leaders probably had a point.
The report — which was requested by Republican legislative leaders — said Bennett’s administration “did not contemplate” all the various ways that schools were organized and therefore was left to make last-minute changes in the grading formulas, some just days before the ratings were released to the public. . .  
In the report released last week, Sheldrake and Grew found that the A-F formula changes made by Bennett’s staff were applied fairly to all similarly situated schools. And they said the “adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy’s final grade were plausible.” Some Republicans rushed to say the report exonerated Bennett.
But again, not so fast. The report also said that “a significant portion of the educational community did not understand or trust in the accuracy or fairness” of the A-F formulas. That’s a problem — and it goes back to the earlier premise that education changes are being implemented so quickly that they are not adequately tested first.
Grew and Sheldrake said that needs to change.
Already, lawmakers have ordered the Board of Education to make changes in the A-F system by putting more emphasis on the growth in student achievement, rather than in raw standardized test scores. And legislative leaders — along with Ritz and Republican Gov. Mike Pence — have appointed a committee to make recommendations for changes to the state board.
But Grew and Sheldrake urged state officials not to get into a big hurry.
“Because of the complexity involved in implementing any new accountability system, the system should be piloted prior to implementation, if possible, permitting IDOE to solicit and receive extensive feedback from schools, adequately perform programming tests, and evaluate policy components incorporated into the system,” the report said . . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gary -- you are right on with this analysis.....the point that I would make is that Bennett and his cronies went into overdrive to salvage Christel House's reputation -- they had a pre-conceived notion that the school would fare better. But they also had a pre-conceived notion that the public schools that operate in urban settings would fare worse -- yet they turned a deaf ear to any concerns that emanated from the public school community......I won't defend the IPS and Gary school districts of the world as I think they are terrible and need competition --- but they deserved better than they got from the Bennett regime.

The other point the report made is that Bennett and his team underestimated the work that would need to go into making the system work -- the technical and computer modeling etc -- is it any wonder they had this problem when the DOE was ransacked when Bennett took office? How many years of institutional knowledge left the building when Bennett sacked the top staff upon entering office....