The News Service Of Florida
By BRANDON LARRABEE
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, September 9, 2013..........The changes former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett made to Indiana's school-grading policies while he was superintendent of public instruction in that state were reasonable, according to a review ordered by the Indiana Legislature.
The report, filed late last week, provides perhaps the final chapter in a controversy that ended up costing Bennett his job in Florida. Bennett resigned Aug. 1, amid the uproar over the grade changes in the Hoosier State, saying he didn't want to be a distraction.
Bennett's decision came in the wake of an Associated Press report that he and his Indiana employees "frantically overhauled" the Hoosier State's school-grading system last year when it looked like one of his political contributors' schools might get a "C." Unlike Florida's education commissioner, Indiana's superintendent is elected.
In their report, William Sheldrake, the president of consulting firm Policy Analytics, LLC, and John Grew, executive director for state relations and policy analysis at Indiana University, said there were understandable reasons why Bennett looked out for the school, known as Christel House.
"The efforts to 'raise the Christel House grade' (were), according to a wide range of testimony, both an attempt to save the credibility of the New Accountability Model and a desire to treat a recognized good school fairly," the report says. "Any further motivations underlying these actions are beyond the scope and documentation of this report."
Sheldrake and Grew also said it also appears that Christel House was not singled out for special treatment.
"In the end, the authors found that the two adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy's final grade were plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances," they wrote.
In a statement issued through the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an education-reform group founded by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bennett essentially declared that the report cleared him.
"The report clearly shows that accusations of manipulation of the A-F system for a single school are false and malicious," Bennett said. "I am pleased with this vindication, not for me, but for the work of my colleagues at the Department of Education and for the 1.1 million Indiana students who have benefited and will continue to benefit from a clear and rigorous school accountability system."