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Report: Bennett's changes to Indiana school grades were "plausible"

An independent review commissioned by the Indiana Legislature found "it was necessary" for former Florida Education Commissioner Tony Bennett to tweak Indiana's school grading formula while serving as that state's top education official.

Bennett drew heavy criticism for the changes, which became the subject of media reports after he lost reelection in Indiana and was named education commissioner in Florida. The controversy led to Bennett's resignation from his Sunshine State post last month.

Emails showed that Bennett had scrambled to change the grade for Christel House Academy, an Indianapolis charter school run by an influential Republican Party donor.

But Bennett said he was addressing a flaw in Indiana's new school grading model, and that the change helped at least a dozen other schools.

Policy Analytics, the firm hired to do the review, found that the Indiana Department of Education had "underestimated the administrative and technical challenges" associated with developing a new school accountability system.

"In the end, the authors found that the two adjustments administered to determine Christel House Academy’s final grade were plausible and the treatment afforded to the school was consistently applied to other schools with similar circumstances," they wrote.

The authors also suggested state leaders move forward with this year's grades -- and that they be transparent and collaborative as they work to modify the school accountability rules in the future.

After reading the report, Bennett said he felt vindicated.

"More than anything, I felt vindicated for the folks who worked so hard in Indiana," he said.

Bennett said he had no regrets about stepping down from his job in Florida.

"I don’t say that because I don’t miss my job, because I do," he said. "But Gov. [Rick] Scott deserved more in an education commissioner than I could have given the last 30 days."

Some of Bennett's supporters in Florida took to Twitter on Friday afternoon.

"Good report for Indiana's A-F system and @Tony_Bennett," wrote Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future.

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