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South Bend fights grades

– Leaders of another large Indiana school district have called for replacing the state’s A-F grading system for schools.

The South Bend school board voted unanimously Monday in favor of a resolution protesting how the grades are calculated. The vote comes after The Associated Press published emails showing former state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett oversaw changes to the grading formula last year to ensure a Republican campaign donor’s charter school received an A grade.

South Bend schools Superintendent Carole Schmidt said the 19,000-student district can’t opt out of the grading system but can draw attention to its flaws of not considering factors such as poverty, special needs or English proficiency, the South Bend Tribune and WNDU-TV reported.

“It doesn’t involve multiple measures over time which is something we want to see, some type of triangulated data about how schools are doing,” Schmidt said.

The Fort Wayne Community Schools board approved a similar resolution last week. Indianapolis Public Schools leaders are seeking information about the grading system’s impact on the 2011 state takeover of four schools.

Bennett has denied any wrongdoing, but he resigned Aug. 1 as Florida’s education commissioner, a post to which he was appointed after losing his re-election bid in Indiana last year.

Current state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, is having an independent review done of the grading system and Republican legislative leaders have their own investigation.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence said last week he was standing by the state’s school-grading system and would not consider calls to suspend the grades for a year.

South Bend board members said their aim isn’t to avoid accountability on school performance but to have a system that better portrays reality.

“There’s an obvious lack of clarity in how these A to F grades were assigned,” said Jay Caponigro, the board’s vice president.

Schmidt said the resolution sends a message from local schools to state officials.

“What we can do, is take a stand,” she said. “We won’t be labeling our schools.”