Eye on Education

What Ohio Can Learn About A-F School Ratings From the Indiana Grade-Changing Scandal

Tony Bennett, a former Indiana state superintendent, resigned his post as Florida Commissioner of Education last week.

Ben Skirvin / StateImpact Indiana

Tony Bennett, a former Indiana state superintendent, resigned his post as Florida Commissioner of Education last week.

Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigned last week after the release of emails showing his staff changed the letter grades for more than a dozen charter schools while Bennett served as Indiana’s state superintendent.

The emails show that after initial grade simulations found that a charter school run by a major Republican donor might receive a C, Bennett’s staff changed the grading system to boost the school’s grade.

The simulations were part of Indiana’s shift to grading schools on an A-F scale.

Ohio is making the same shift this year, though Ohio’s grading criteria are different from Indiana’s.

The school report cards the Ohio Department of Education expects to issue later this month will use A-F grades instead of labels like “Excellent with Distinction” (the highest rating) or “Academic Emergency” (the lowest).

Ohio’s new school grading system could also be tougher than the state’s current system.

Ohio and about a dozen other states are moving to A-F school grading systems because policymakers believe they’re easier for parents and taxpayers to understand.

But giving a school a single, overall grade can obscure nuances of school performance.

And, as our colleagues at StateImpact Indiana report, there are other problems with creating school rating systems:

[Jim Stergois, executive director of the Pioneer Institute], says the cornerstone of any accountability system is transparency. He says the problem with assigning A-F letter grades to schools is officials can change or adapt the metrics behind closed doors — like what happened in Indiana.

“From the emails, it seems like there were three individuals that were primarily responsible for rejiggering grades given to schools,” says Stergois. “That in itself raises questions about objectivity.”

In total, 13 charter schools saw their letter grades improve as result of Bennett’s staff tinkering with the accountability metrics. But Indiana State Teachers Association President Teresa Meredith wonders if the independent review might reveal other schools that were negatively impacted. [A pair of independent evaluators will assess the accuracy of letter grades schools received from the state in 2012.]

“In the end, the charter who didn’t have such a good grade, got what it needed in terms of the formula to make it look better than it really should have,” she says. “We’ve got to make sure in the new system, that can’t happen. That cannot happen.”

She says Indiana needs to hold off assigning letter grades until it’s clear how many schools were potentially harmed.


  • duckmonkeyman

    The grades can he misinterpreted. For example, a school may have special education children older than 18 but not yet graduated. This counts against a schools graduation rate.

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