Christel Meth: 5 Thoughts On The IN School Grading Controversy

If you want to read Florida education chief Tony Bennett’s side of the controversy about school grading changes in IN Rick Hess has it this morning (and before you assume Bennett only went to a friendly interviewer with soft questions to give his take he also did an open-question presser with national and local press yesterday afternoon as well).  Background here. Five thoughts on the whole thing:

– This probably wouldn’t have been news if it wasn’t midsummer or if a plane had crashed this week.  It’s not that big of a deal and calls for Bennett to resign pretty obviously overstate the issue. Clearly IN officials did discover a problem with their grading system that unfairly penalized 12 or 13 schools with non-traditional grade configurations. It was one particular school that brought it to their attention. That’s not surprising during the development of a system like this, which do always have a lot of wrinkles that need to be ironed out. We pointed that out in the Hangover paper on teacher evaluations and tried to make clear that people should not be afraid to make changes as needed.

– That said, there do seem to be two problems here.  First, there was not enough transparency about the changes. And that’s something that , even though the need for a fix looks clear here, should worry reformers because at the regulatory level gaming of accountability systems is pervasive. You get these issues as these systems are stress tested and then as they’re implemented and evolve . But it’s vital that people have confidence in how and why decisions are being made and given the tenor of the debate these days things should be communicated extra clearly to avoid episodes like this. Second, it does appear from the emails released so far that IN officials worked with the explicit goal of getting this school to an “A” rather than merely fixing the problem. Granted, the emails released so far are selective (and in some cases lack context, for instance the “lies” remark makes sense within context) and it seems to me that AP should request all of them and Bennett should want them all released rather than just a few calculated to paint him in a bad light.

I don’t think the effort to help this school or similar schools is about money.  As a friend remarked yesterday to me about this episode, many times “follow the money” is not especially useful advice. In this case it’s a great headline but a distraction that misses what happened here.  It doesn’t look like Bennett or his team made these changes because this school’s founder was a donor (and other affected schools were not). That’s correlation.  Rather, I think that they wanted to make sure a school that is generally regarded as a good one – and that they frequently praised in public – was not unfairly dinged by their new grading system.  That is arguably about pride or politics or both, but it’s not about money.

Bottom line, at the time IN officials should have handled what is at its core a defensible situation better. But now, today, our field might think about handling it better, too.  The general reactions – both the predictable rush to attacks from critics and rush to blanket defenses from defenders – don’t really reflect well on anyone.

– For some real inside baseball there is some grumbling in IN about the timing of all this coming on the heels of good news on test scores under Bennett’s watch and also a report that undermined a key claim his opponent, now the state’s school chief, made during the campaign and subsequently about IN’s assessments.

Also see Mathew Tully on this in the Indy paper.

16 Replies to “Christel Meth: 5 Thoughts On The IN School Grading Controversy”

  1. I am interested in your perspective, but I think there’s a gloss here that serves to confuse the issue. TB’s staff explained the C grade as the result of poor algebra tests. About 66% of 10th graders at the school failed to pass.

    Neither this post, nor the interview you link to, includes that seemingly central fact. Whether that central fact was given too-strong a role in final grade might be ‘unfair,’ as you suggest, but dodging the fact makes your critique seem partisan, and the linked interview seem weak.

  2. I agree with Chris, the prior commenter. Bennett’s explanations are patently bogus. Anyone who wants to investigate this issue should actually read the emails that the original AP article cited. As the previous commenter said, the reason for the school’s original low grade was their poor performance on the Algebra test, not any problems with the formula or how the grades were calculated. This comes from Jon Gubera’s emails to Bennett.

    How did they magically get an A at the end of the process? I think what they did is change the rules so that Christel House could exclude their 9th and 10th grade scores entirely and base their grade exclusively on grades 3 through 8, thus giving them an A. If you look at the final document cited by the AP, it shows changes made to the formula that seem crafted to allow Christel House to remove the high school portion of their scores.

    There are more questions to be asked here. No one should accept the words of Tony Bennett without lots of digging and investigating.

  3. But of course Tony Bennett defends himself. What else can he do? The result is a clear manipulation of the formula his group made to reveal a so called flaw that he can now claim he fixed. What a bunch of bologna! He incredulously claims the hero role now? If we want to talk unfair, let’s also look at school 69 in IPS. It was originally school 37 which was a completely different type of school than 69. Tony and his cronies labeled 69 as an F school to start with even though they used past data from school 37 to label it so. School 69 was a new school that should have had no grade whatsoever to start with but Tony and his ilk want ALL Public Schools to fail so they can become privatized. They clearly manipulated data to make it an F school to begin with even though the model for 37 was completely different. Why is it that Tony only corrects the wrongs when it benefits Charter Schools? Why didn’t he and his group give School 69 a clean slate when they went converted from 37 to 69 which have clearly different metrics due to the type of school they are. believe me, more will be coming out about Tony Bennett and it will not be pretty.

  4. Can you explain the flaw in the existing grading system as you see it? I agree with the first two commenters that there was in fact no flaw and the change was solely to exclude poor results.

  5. This post reeks of cronyism. The emails indicate that the school in question got a C because of poor performance on a grade 10 algebra test. Bennett claims that the system he designed gave a school a zero for a grade if the school did not offer that grade. Which is it? You don’t even highlight the issue at hand, but instead give us that “slow news day” jive. Andy, you’re losing credibility fast.

  6. IF one assumes no foul play then it may suggest or rather, scream out loud, that the Indiana grading system is bogus. As are all such systems of assigning grades bogus accountability systems that really attempt to shame and humiliate schools, districts, teachers, and ultimately students, into doing better because gosh darn it, the real problem is we are a nation of slackers and our schools are the worst offenders.

    Can we please, at long last, just call a spade a spade and get over this obsequious attention to shaming people into toeing the political line?

  7. I wonder if teacher evaluation systems will change if folks see that the teachers are rated too high or too low.

    And, what is the proper way to score the schools? (I’m really asking I’m not really a policy guru):
    1) Figure out how many schools should get A/B/C/D/F and then work backwards in the formula so that the correct number of schools get A/B/C/D/F


    2) Figure out the criteria for what an A/B/C/D/F school looks like, gather the data, and let the scores fall into place

  8. Educator, here is the take-away:


    You just don’t. There is NO research basis for it. Such a scheme has never, ever changed anything. It’s just a political/marketing ploy. Schools are much too complex to be assigned a letter grade.

    Now, if you ask, why do we assign kids letter grades, you move one square forward. What’s your next question?

  9. Fair point jeffrey miller.

    Here’s my next question –
    If this entire thing is “not that big of a deal” as stated in the blog post, why this from the AP article:

    “Over the next week, his top staff worked arduously to get Christel House its “A.” By Sept. 21, Christel House had jumped to a 3.75. Gubera resigned shortly afterward.
    He declined comment Monday.
    The emails don’t detail what Gubera changed in the school formula or how many schools were affected.”

    The AP article doesn’t say why Gubera resigned since he declined comment, but this leaves a lot of us to speculate that it’s cause he was uncomfortable with what happened. If he wasn’t, he could have just told the AP journalist that he found a job elsewhere, got a promotion, etc… Seems fishy.

    Also, how did the AP reporter even know to investigate this story? He must have been tipped off somehow by someone? Or does a journalist somehow know to file a FOIA request for e-mails related to grade changing of a school?

    These things cause me to doubt that this was all about fixing kinks in the grading system.

  10. I had wondered how the reformers no matter what would spin this– now I know. I wonder if they are struck by the irony of the defense– CH was and is a “good school” and thus the system must be broken not to show it . . . . hmmh, that sounds a lot what teachers, parents, a lot of us say about our “traditional public schools” and the bogus test-driven metrics employed to tarnish them as “failing” or some bad unacceptable grade or another. But unlike Tony Bennett, there is no Decider who can swoop in, monkey with the formula for a week and presto, we come out as Excellent. Nah, nothing to see here folks, no news, move along, move along . . . got it. But see also: “When Grading Schools Isn’t The Answer, It’s The Problem” by Michael Brick who also wrote a great book on a real-life urban school in Texas “in the crosshairs of education reform”

  11. Why should Tony Bennet or Indiana be held to different standards than the students or teachers that they oversee?

    The testing system unfairly punished 12 or 13 schools with non-traditional grading systems? What does the testing system do to the student who does not perform well on multiple choice tests because they suffer from test anxiety or can express their knowledge better orally or tactilely? What happens to the student who processes information more easily auditorily or with paper opposed to reading off a computer?

    How does the testing system accommodate teachers who tailors instruction to unique and individual abilities of his class only to be assessed on a “one size fits all” test at the end of the year? What happens to the teacher who has a student population that is particularly challenging? The teacher who is never given resources to succeed? When an unforeseen tragedy or event significantly impacts the educational process?

    The simple answer is, no accommodations are made for these situations in the high stakes testing and “accountability” environment Bennett advocates for students and teachers. Data Driven, Testing Driven, Common Standards negates individual learning, instruction and assessment. By its very nature, some students will be hurt by lower grades than they deserve. If this is acceptable for students and teachers, it is acceptable for Bennett’s beloved charter school.

  12. Seems like opportunity for some….reporting! I.e., aren’t there now 2 competing claims (algebra grade 10, versus 11/12 “zeroes”) on table?

    Isn’t this the sort of thing a reporter could establish with clarity either way?

    P.S. For the record, I just got the “Capcha” wrong on my comment. I had entered 4 minus 4 = 4. My hands aren’t clean.

  13. It’s not that big of a deal
    Ah, excuse making from the Professional Education Reform crowd.
    Whether it be lying (see Michelle Rhee, Campbell Brown, John Deasy et al), cheating (Rhee again, Hall, Paige, Jeb! Bush) or outright failure to achievement the promised significant improvement in test school for poor minority children (Rhee, Huffman, Vallas, White, Klein, Bloomberg ),
    Andy makes excuses.
    Wait until this shit hits Barcroft.

    Bit, Andy got his start at the feet of a guy who brought cocksucking to the Oval Office.

  14. Pimp My Ride,
    Fred Hess style:

    Fredrick Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who was paid $35,000, entitled his paper “The Most Interesting School District in America?” and promoted it in an online discussion last month with Bennett and the Douglas County superintendent, Elizabeth Fagen. The district also emailed Hess’ report to tens of thousands of parents.
    Hess didn’t disclose in the paper that he was paid by the Douglas County foundation

    Read more:

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