Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

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December 21, 2013

School at heart of grade-change flap drops to 'F'

Principal blames ISTEP test interruptions for lower scores.

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis charter school at the center of Indiana’s grade-changing scandal dropped from an “A’’ to an “F’’ in school grades released Friday.

The Christel House Academy benefited last year from changes to the grading formula made by former schools Superintendent Tony Bennett. But grades released for the 2012-13 school year showed a precipitous drop for the school founded by top GOP donor Christel DeHaan.

Christel House’s ISTEP test scores fell sharply this year, which contributed to its lower grade.

This year’s school grades also used a formula that took all the school’s grade levels into account. Bennett’s staff excluded the school’s ninth and 10th grades from the calculations last year, which helped bump Christel House’s grade from a “C’’ to an “A’’.

A spokesman for new Superintendent Glenda Ritz could not immediately say whether use of all the grade levels contributed to the sharp drop.

Christel House Principal Carey Dahncke on Friday blamed the school’s troubles on the administration of Indiana’s standardized test, the ISTEP. Thousands of students were kicked off the online test last spring as CTB/McGraw-Hill’s computer servers crashed.

A review commissioned by Ritz found few changes in the actual test results and, in some cases, a slight improvement in student performance. But Dahncke said the disruptions, which he said affected about 92 percent of his students, sparked a major drop in test scores.

“I think if we had given the test on pen and paper, like we had done in the past, then we would have had very different results,” he said.

Dahncke said the school is considering legal action against the state.

The State Board of Education approved the grades for all schools throughout the state at its meeting Friday morning. The grades have become increasingly important in recent years, being used to determine teacher pay, school funding and the potential for state takeover.

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