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Indiana Chief Finds 'Manipulation' of School Grades

An initial examination of Indiana's school grades from the 2011-12 academic year show "manipulation" by former state K-12 officials, state Superintendent Glenda Ritz told the Associated Press today. The statement by Ritz is the latest chapter in a story that began late last month, when emails between former state education chief Tony Bennett and his subordinates last September showed how they discussed changing the state's A-F accountability model after they discovered that a Bennett-backed charter school would not receive an A grade as he had promised lawmakers and others.

Speaking to AP reporter Tom LoBianco, Ritz also said that this year's upcoming A-F results for schools for the 2012-13 academic year would be delayed until the accountability model gets a further review. The system was developed with Bennett's support during his four-year tenure that ended with his defeat to Ritz in last November's election.

"Upon our preliminary examination, the department has verified that there was manipulation of calculation categories and the department has also determined that there are broader issues that need to be examined," Ritz told a meeting of the state board on Aug. 7. But that isn't the final word—Ritz said a "final report" on the matter could be ready as soon as Sept. 2, LoBianco said.

Others outside the K-12 system in Indiana also want answers. As my colleague at Politics K-12 Michele McNeil reported today, the American Federation of Teachers, along with its Indiana affiliate, have filed public records requests in Indiana to see correspondence between Bennett and one of his closest K-12 allies, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an advocacy group that supports A-F accountability.

Bennett, who subsequently took over as Florida's education commissioner last January, resigned from the Florida job on Aug. 1 after the emails were revealed, but he has consistently denied any wrongdoing and has asked Indiana Inspector General David Thomas to investigate. (I've tried to contact Thomas multiple times to ask him if he has or will initiate an investigation if Bennett formally makes such a request, but I haven't heard back.)

Indiana GOP leaders announced on Aug. 2 that they had created their own task force to examine the A-F accountability model. So if Thomas ultimately does start looking into the matter, there could be three official, separate investigations into the state's A-F system, in addition to whatever information the AFT's public-records request reveals.

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