Education: Indiana leaders establish 'A-F' school review panel

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A panel of teachers, principals and superintendents will be tasked with rewriting Indiana's school grading system in the wake of a grade-changing scandal that benefited a Republican donor's school, state leaders announced Thursday.

Lawmakers had already tasked the state education department with rewriting the grading formula before an Associated Press report that showed former state education chief Tony Bennett secretly altered the formula last September to benefit the donor's Indianapolis charter school. Bennett resigned earlier this month from his new job leading Florida schools after the AP published emails he sent in Indiana.

Gov. Mike Pence, School Superintendent Glenda Ritz, House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long signed a joint agreement Wednesday on the makeup of the 17-member panel. Bosma, Long, Pence and Ritz will each get to pick one teacher, one principal, one superintendent and one adviser. Ritz will co-chair the panel with one of the other panel members picked by Long, who chairs the General Assembly's leadership committee.

"The Accountability System Review Panel will make recommendations regarding revisions to the school accountability system, and I look forward to working together to create a fair system that families, community stakeholders, teachers and schools can embrace with confidence," Pence said in a statement Thursday.

Bennett resigned from his Florida job a few days after the AP report was published but has maintained he did nothing wrong. The report launched a pair of reviews of the grading system inside the Statehouse, one by the Department of Education and a second requested by Long and Bosma.

Local school boards, meanwhile, have begun protesting the grading system. Local superintendents have called for the grades Bennett issued last year to be invalidated, while South Bend and Fort Wayne school leaders have said they will not recognize the grades.

Indiana has classified schools based on graduation rates and testing performance since "Public Law 221" was approved in 1999. But Bennett pushed for a new school formula

The grades have grown in importance recently, in part with laws shifting money to schools which receive "A"s and setting teacher salary based in part on how schools are assessed. The grades have also become an important tool for realtors and home-buyers in determining the quality of an area.

The state school board, which is appointed by the governor, will have the final say on the new "A-F" rules. But the school superintendent, as Bennett showed, has considerable leeway in how the rule is applied.

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