Are We Failing At Grading Schools?

Big education news out of Indiana, where the state’s former schools chief – now Florida’s Commissioner of Education – apparently gamed his own school-rating system:

[Tony Bennett] built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks [from an “C” to an “A”].

Bennett, an “Education Reform Idol” winner, has denied any wrongdoing, and Michael Petrilli, who hosted the contest, urges people not to jump to conclusions:

[Bennett] had spent months (and much political capital) building an A–F accountability system for Indiana’s schools. These systems are as much art as science (more akin to baking cookies than designing a computer), and when they tried out the recipe the first time, it flopped. One of Indiana’s brightest stars, a charter school known to be super high performing, ended up with a C. Clearly, the recipe needed fine tuning.

Ed Kilgore rolls his eyes:

The whole point of a “charter” public school is strict accountability for results. A “charter” is nothing other than a performance contract. If, as Bennett now claims, the bad grade for his pet school illustrated problems with the scoring system, it should have been discussed publicly after the results were released. I’m a long-time supporter of public school choice (and a bitter, last-ditch opponent of vouchers). But it’s getting to the point where you have to put “charter” in quotations when you are talking about some of these schools, particularly in states where the underlying commitment to public education is lacking.

Mark Kleiman is even harsher:

Look: I believe in outcomes measurement. I believe in accountability. I even believe in school choice. (After all, I live in the jurisdiction of the LA Mummified School District.) What I don’t believe is that the current testing/accountability/choice con artists and racketeering enterprises are going to make things better rather than worse. The cheating is so pervasive that I now see no basis for believing any claimed good result. That’s why Diane Ravitch has switched sides.

You’d have thought that charter schools, like private prisons, could hardly have done worse than their big, clumsy, bureaucratic, union-dominated public competition. But you would have been wrong, twice.

Andrew Ujifusa says the scandal could reverberate nationwide:

Bennett, in his new role as Florida’s education commissioner, the job he landed after losing his 2012 re-election bid in Indiana, recommended a dramatic change to Florida’s A-F accountability system so that no school’s A-F grade will drop by more than one letter in one year for both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 academic years. That move encountered some resistance, but won the approval of the state board of education earlier this month. The AP story may create a more difficult political environment for A-F school-grading systems in general and provide ammunition for those who believe the whole concept is flawed.