Bennett Scandal Brings New Scrutiny to School Grading Systems

Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett

Former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett

States are increasingly using standardized test scores, graduation rates and other metrics to grade individual schools on an A through F scale. Schools always want to get that top grade, but critics contend that there are several things wrong with the process: the metrics are flawed, and there isn’t enough transparency, for starters. Now these systems are under extra scrutiny lately thanks to a scandal involving former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett.

Bennett’s accused of altering the ratings system back when he was Indiana’s state superintendent, resulting in a change from a C to an A rating for a charter school run by a political supporter of his. Others point out that other charter schools’ ratings were affected positively, and that it was good he interfered, since the metrics penalized the schools for not having a graduation rate, on account of not teaching 11th and 12th grades. They say Bennett added nuance to a one-size-fits-all accountability system. An investigation as to any wrongdoing is underway.

Indiana isn’t the only state with this debate. Maine implemented a similar system in May that’s based on test scores and other data and is, as you might expect, controversial. So far, three out of Maine’s 600 public schools have had their grades changed. Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and New York City also have A-F systems, with Ohio joining their ranks this year.

Maine’s Education Commissioner pointed out, “We understand a letter grade does not tell the whole story of a student, nor does it tell the whole story of a school…Rather, this is a good-faith effort to condense the reams of data…” But what do these ratings mean if they require constant rejiggering? Is that a sign of a flaw, or is that merely being a good steward of the information?

Does your state or district use a school ratings system? Do you think it’s a good faith effort to gauge schools or a misdirect that just tells half the story?

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