INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – The Indianapolis charter school at the center of Indiana’s grade-changing scandal dropped from an “A” to an “F” in school grades released Friday.
The Christel House Academy benefited last year from changes to the grading formula made by former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett. But grades released for the 2012-2013 school year showed a precipitous drop for the school founded by top GOP donor Christel DeHaan.
Christel House’s ISTEP test scores fell sharply this year, which contributed to its lower grade.
This year’s school grades also used a formula that took all the school’s grade levels into account. Bennett’s staff excluded the school’s 9th and 10th grades from the calculations last year, which helped bump Christel House’s grade from a “C” to an “A”.
A spokesman for new Superintendent Glenda Ritz could not immediately say whether use of all the grade levels contributed to the sharp drop.
Christel House Principal Carey Dahncke on Friday blamed the school’s troubles on the administration of Indiana’s standardized test, the ISTEP. Thousands of students were kicked off the online test last spring as CTB/McGraw-Hill’s computer servers crashed.
A review commissioned by Ritz found few changes in the actual test results and, in some cases, a slight improvement in student performance. But Dahncke said the disruptions, which he said affected about 92 percent of his students, sparked a major drop in test scores.
“I think if we had given the test on pen and paper, like we had done in the past, then we would have had very different results,” he said.
Dahncke said the school is considering legal action against the state.
The State Board of Education approved the grades for all schools throughout the state at its meeting Friday morning. The grades have become increasingly important in recent years, being used to determine teacher pay, school funding and the potential for state takeover.
Across the nation, school grades increasingly have been adopted by conservative education officials. Indiana first approved school assessments in 1999, and Bennett later changed the labels to reflect “A-F” grades.
Bennett was in the middle of reworking Florida’s school grading system earlier this year when he resigned as that state’s schools chief amid the Indiana grade-change scandal. Emails obtained by The Associated Press showed a scramble by Bennett and his staff last year upon learning Christel House was about to receive a “C”.
A legislative review of Bennett’s alterations found they were applied evenly to other schools but did not explore his motives for the change.
Bennett is also the subject of ethics charges filed by Indiana’s inspector general alleging he misused state resources to aid in his failed re-election bid last year. He recently returned to Indiana and began consulting on state-level issues with testing company ACT.
The new grades were calculated using the Bennett grading formula, which also will be used to calculate grades for the 2013-2014 school year. Members of the state board are crafting a new “A-F” grading formula.
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