Flanner House to close its doors for good today

Flanner House, the Indianapolis charter school at the center of a cheating scandal, officially closes at the end of the school day today.

Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, which sponsored the school and conducted the initial investigation into allegations of cheating on the state ISTEP exam, said fewer than 20 students were still enrolled at the school at the start of the week. Most of the 176 children who were enrolled at the beginning of the school year transferred to other schools after the school’s board voted to close the school Aug. 20.

The Flanner House board last week voted 4-2 to reverse the decision to close, but the move was effectively symbolic as the enrollment had dropped beyond the point at which the school could viably operate.

Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth said Flanner House school officials have worked with the city to help students find other schools.

“We’re working very collaboratively with them,” he said.

An investigation into the school’s ISTEP scores began last year after its passing rate made a huge 42 percentage point jump to 95 percent passing both English and math, besting even most of the top scoring suburban schools in the state’s wealthiest school districts.

Flanner House, with nearly all students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, had never seen more than 65 percent of its students pass ISTEP in more than 10 years of operation.

As Ballard’s office and state officials were investigating, the school’s latest scores showed nearly an identical change in its passing rate, but this time the scores fell dramatically. Just 56.5 percent of students passed both English and math on ISTEP this year, down 39 points.

Interviews with students and staff showed why, according to the investigators’ reports. Students told investigators they recognized the very same questions on ISTEP from practice tests they took to prepare for the exam. A teacher also reported finding evidence that students had written practice essays based on the same essay question they saw on ISTEP.

Still, when the plan to close was announced, there were protests from students, staff and parents, some of whom made homemade signs urging Ballard to save the school.