Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #153 – September 12, 2013

Dear Friends,

The Grew/Sheldrake Report on the A-F controversy issued last Friday (September 6th) found that:
  1. until the new A-F system is implemented, Dr. Bennett’s system should not be used to subject a school to state intervention;
  2. Dr. Bennett’s IDOE “underestimated administrative and technical challenges” of the new system and did not have sufficient pilot tests;
  3. IDOE consistently applied the changes prompted by Dr. Bennett’s concern about Christel House Academy to schools in similar circumstances, changing over 180 grades;
  4. Dr. Bennett’s desire was “to treat a recognized good school fairly” but in the words of the report: “any further motivations underlying these actions are beyond the scope and documentation of this report.”
The report was silent on the question of why other “recognized good schools” were not singled out for corrective action as was Christel House Academy.

At the Sept. 6th press conference, as reported by Tom LoBianco of the Associated Press, the authors declined to say their report exonerated Dr. Bennett: “Grew and Sheldrake said Friday that the report does not ‘exonerate’ or ‘vindicate’ Bennett, nor condemn him. They said it only explains how his team changed the grading formula.”

Here are the details on the four points above.
1. Recommending a Hiatus on State Interventions
In a key recommendation that clearly questions the validity of Dr. Bennett’s system, the authors wrote:
For the 2012-13 school year and subsequent years until the new accountability system required by HEA 1427-2013 is implemented, state policymakers should consider not subjecting a school to state interventions described in IC 20-31-9-4 due to a sixth consecutive year of placement in the lowest category or designation of school performance. (p. 19)
One of five charges to the authors written by Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tem Long asked the authors “to examine the previous A-F metric … determining its validity.” The authors provided logs of concerns that others had raised about Dr. Bennett’s metrics and noted that over 30 speakers testified against the system in the only public hearing held in January, 2012. They did not provide, however, a narrative conclusion about the overall validity of Dr. Bennett’s A-F system except for their clear discomfort with using it for state intervention. While they use gentle language, their recommendation cited above clearly finds Dr.Bennett’s metrics invalid for use in state intervention, a powerful statement on their part.

One must ask: If the grades are not valid for state intervention purposes, why should the public think they are valid for any other purpose?

I have advocated that Dr. Bennett’s system never be used again due to the tremendous public distrust that remains and the inherent flaws that it had in the first place using growth statistics based on measuring students against their peers. Such statistics tend to assign low grades to a predictable fixed percentage. The system should be restored to criterion-referenced metrics in which any student that does well can show growth, without regard to the growth of other students.
2. Inadequate Staff and Quality Control Pilot Testing
The authors, while using calm language, were very clear that Dr. Bennett’s IDOE was not up to the task of administering the A-F grading system. Consider Findings 1, 6 and 7 on pages 17-18:

1) The authors found that IDOE 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 relative to 2011-12 grades. (p. 17)

6) Due to the staff turnover discussed in the subsection above, there were limitations to IDOE’s technical capability, including computer program code development, to complete work necessary to produce grades for 2011-12. IDOE’s ability to finalize the accountability system, perform quality control simulations, and to produce final output was clearly compromised by the loss of several key technical staff beginning in summer, 2011 through summer, 2012. (p. 18)

7) In part due to the loss of key IDOE technical staff, there was also inadequate time for final implementation of the accountability system from final adoption of the administrative rule in spring, 2012 to the October 30 release of 2011-12 academic year grades. There simply needed to be more time to complete final programming and perform quality control work, prior to release of each school’s final grades. Some of the quality control work was still being performed after the release of embargoed data on September 19. Thus, this work was ongoing while schools were reviewing and submitting questions and appeals. (p. 18)

This description of administrative disarray is certainly not an exoneration of Dr. Bennett.
3. Changing Grades at the Last Minute
While the authors found that last minute changes which helped Christel House Academy were applied consistently to other schools, the thought that the system was being given a drastic revision only a few days before issuing the grades is hard to fathom. It leaves any observer wondering why the system wasn’t pilot tested in a better way.

The report found that two changes were made which lifted the Christel House grade from C to A. One was to ignore high school data which was incomplete. The report found that 16 other schools, most of which were charter schools, were given the same treatment. Secondly, in studying the Christel House grade at Dr. Bennett’s request, the staff discovered what they said was a computer programming error in capping the bonus points for elementary and middle schools. Under the final rule passed in February, they said the cap was to be removed but the computer program erroneously left it in place.

Steve Hinnefeld in his School Matters blog of Sept. 9th (Detail still missing from Indiana grade-change story) has written a well-documented challenge to Dr. Bennett’s staff’s assertion that caps were not supposed to be used under the rule and that it was all a computer error that was conveniently discovered in time to help Christel House Academy. The Grew/Sheldrake report, however, has accepted the IDOE claim that the caps were imposed in error and has printed a list of 165 elementary and middle schools that were given a higher grade by removing the caps. Of the 165, 130 were public schools, 32 were private/parochial schools and 3 were charter schools. Three public high schools (Northview, Rossville and Speedway) also gained a letter grade when the caps were corrected.
4. Treating Recognized Good Schools Fairly
The report’s finding that Dr. Bennett desired “to treat a recognized good school fairly” leaves significant questions: Why did he limit his concern to Christel House Academy? Why didn’t he listen when other “recognized good schools” claimed unfair treatment in the appeal process? Why didn’t he listen when, in a documented appeal, a student got perfect scores two years in a row and yet was marked as “low growth” leaving a negative mark against the school?

MacArthur Elementary in Crown Point was a recognized good school, but it was not treated fairly. Dr. Bennett nominated MacArthur for a National Blue Ribbon award from the US Department of Education in early 2012 due to high test scores and a superb record in a mixed demographic area serving 46% on free or reduced lunch. The school’s pass rate in English was 95% in the past two years, up from 74% in 2005. The pass rate in math has exceeded 90% for the past three years (92%, 96% & 91%), up from 69% in 2005. There is no question the school is a good school and deserves the award, but Principal Marian Buchko had to write the following appeal on October 11, 2012:
“Douglas MacArthur Elementary … recently received the devastating news that our school was graded a “B”. I almost cannot put into words how demoralizing and deflating this announcement was to our entire team. Bluntly speaking, as a collective group we still have not recovered from the sting of this slap from the State. The timing of this announcement has robbed us of our intense sense of pride at being named one of the eight National Blue Ribbon Schools in the state of Indiana.” After restating the high achievement marks of MacArthur, she asked: “How can a school achieving at this level be labeled a “B” school?”
Dr. Bennett ignored the appeal, even though Superintendent Teresa Eineman reminded him in her written appeal that when Dr. Bennett was in Crown Point in January 2012 he had told them that “schools achieving above the state goal of 90-25-90 would not have to worry about their exemplary/A category being threatened by fluctuations in the 90’s for any reason.”

Dr. Bennett’s claim that he wanted to “get it right” did not apply to MacArthur Elementary.

Many school districts have a good school that was not treated fairly. The Grew/Sheldrake report did not address the question of why Christel House was reviewed and upgraded while MacArthur and others were ignored.


Nothing in this report has convinced me that Dr. Bennett’s metrics should be used again this fall to grade schools for 2012-13. I urge you to contact legislators and members of the State Board to let them know that restoring public confidence in the letter grading system requires that the new system due under the law by November 15, 2013 should be used for 2012-13 grades. We should not revisit a flawed formula for letter grades even one more time.

The Grew/Sheldrake Report is well worth reading it is entirety and can be found at

Keep up your good work for public education!

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We hope all members and prospective members will come to the membership meetings this fall, the first of which is Saturday, September 21st, 2-3:30pm at the Washington Township Central Office, 86th & Woodfield Crossing. Glenda Ritz is the featured speaker. At the meeting you can renew your membership for the 2013-14 membership year which began July 1st if you have not done so already.

One way to RSVP for the September 21st meeting is simply to reply to this message. Please join us!

To all who have recently renewed or supported our fundraiser in Bloomington, we say thank you! We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on our three ICPE membership meetings this fall. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.


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