School grade oversight moved to legislative agency

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The battle for control of Indiana's education policy escalated Friday when top Republican lawmakers shifted calculation of school accountability grades for the 2012-2013 school year from the Department of Education to the Legislature's bill-drafting shop.

House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long signed off on a request from Republican appointees to the State Board of Education.

The board members crafted a letter Wednesday questioning why Superintendent Glenda Ritz has yet to release the A-F grades or teacher effectiveness ratings. The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, also requested that responsibility for compiling the rankings be shifted from the Department of Education to the Legislature's nonpartisan analysis and bill-drafting arm.

The move comes amid an overhaul of the grading formula following a grade-changing scandal involving former state schools chief Tony Bennett. Bennett resigned as Florida's schools chief in August after The Associated Press reported he had overhauled Indiana's grading formula to ensure a charter school founded by a top Republican donor received an A.

It's also the latest scuffle in what's becoming a power struggle between Republicans and Ritz, the lone Democrat holding a statewide office. Since Ritz defeated Bennett last November, lawmakers have considered diluting her power on the board, a Bennett ally on the board has taken control of long-term planning for the group and Gov. Mike Pence created a second education agency charged with shaping education policy along with job-training initiatives.

The A-F grades have become increasingly important in recent years. They help determine teacher pay and school funding and whether schools that receive failing grades are turned over to private operators. They also play a role in home sales as families weigh education rankings before deciding where to buy a house.

The letter sent Wednesday expresses concern that the grades haven't been released yet this year.

"As members of the Board, we send this letter out of concern for ensuring that school accountability information is provided to Indiana schools, educators, and families in as timely a manner as possible. We are now mid-way through October, and the Department has yet to report 2012-2013 A-F grades or release teacher effectiveness ratings as required under Indiana law," the group wrote.

Ten members of the 11-member board, all appointed by either former Gov. Mitch Daniels or Pence, signed the letter.

Ritz is on an education trip to China. Though the letter was emailed to Ritz and other board members Thursday night, DOE spokesman David Galvin said her staff did not see the letter until Friday.

"The Pence-appointed state board of education and its staff is insistent on perpetuating a rushed, inaccurate, and untested labeling system for our schools," Galvin said.

Friday's move effectively places the running of data through Bennett's school-grading formula with the LSA, but leaves the final say on issuing grades with the state board.

Two factors have consistently popped up in the debate over grading: speed and transparency.

A pair of investigators hired by the state's legislative leaders determined Bennett and his team had rushed out school grades last year and operated outside the public eye. As part of their monthlong investigation, Republican analyst Bill Sheldrake and Democratic analyst John Grew were given access to the raw data the Department of Education uses to calculate school grades.

The board members reasoned in their letter Wednesday that Grew and Sheldrake proved legislative analysts can issue the letter grades faster than Ritz's office. They noted in the letter that the process could drag out even longer because schools can appeal their grades.

Galvin noted that school rankings are based largely on ISTEP+ scores, which were delayed after computer issues knocked thousands of students offline while taking the test this spring. Galvin said that delay and fallout from the Bennett grade-change scandal pushed the education department's timeline for releasing school grades to November.

Galvin said the department had told the board it would finalize ISTEP scores at the start of next month and could have preliminary grades out by the end of the month.

But that lengthy timeline is having a real impact on the state's educators, said Lou Ann Baker, a spokeswoman Pence's new Center for Education and Career Innovation, which staffs the state board of education.

"The Department of Education continues to drag their feet, despite public statements, on topics that they are required by law, but that they philosophically oppose," she wrote in an email. "And their refusal to do their job jeopardizes teacher raises, performance grants for schools, and compliance with state and federal law. If they feel rushed, it is only because they have chosen to put themselves in that position by not doing their job."


  • Tired of Republican Ideology!?
    How much longer do Hoosier citizens, parents, and voters have to put up with the right-wing leanings of Republican politicians that continue to push their ideologies via the legislature? Let's let educators do their jobs including setting policy and implementing programs that work. I have no confidence that an Education Board made up of all Republican-governor appointees have the best interests of students and faculty in mind. Indiana will never catch up with the rest of the country with this constant political bickering and maneuvering.
  • Bennett Rubber Stamps
    Gov. Pence and the State Board of Ed. give every appearance of being Tony Bennett's rubber stamps and protecting his agenda which voters rejected in droves. Are Republicans TRYING to motivate Glenda Ritz to run for Governor and voters to support her? Ritz would defeat Pence in a New York minute, but voters will get their chance to vent their anger on legislators first. I thought Republicans opposed more boards, bureaucrats, and government costs. Instead, Pence and company are creating all the above to subvert the voters' choice. Legislators should be very careful about stepping into this cross fire.
  • Typical GOP BS
    This seems to be the pattern with the GOP these days. On a national level, we don't like certain laws, we'll just shut the government down, make ridiculous demands and try to exert leverage we don't have. On a state level, our man Bennett was repudiated by a majority of voters. Who cares? We'll just thwart his elected successor by creating a duplicate agency and taking away her duties when she's out of the country. As a voter and a taxpayer, I'm sick of this. I voted for this woman, and I want her to be able to do her job without interference from a bunch of GOP crybabies who can't accept the results of an election.
  • We don't need no stinking DOE
    Does anyone else see the irony? "Friday's move effectively places the running of data through Bennett's school-grading formula with the LSA", meaning let's get someone else to churn out more useless information. The Republicans seem determined to make this flawed model work.
  • just to point out
    maybe she is in China to find out WHY and HOW academics is number one, if true, as was asserted by previous commenter
  • why is Ritz in China
    Why is she in China. Who is paying for this trip and is she being payed by the state while she is there. I don't think her job description includes going to China but to manage education here and make sure that Indiana education improves. I know many people who moved here from the East and West coast and they believe Indianas educational system is not very good. We unfortunately are a backwater state. Wages have gone backwards for middle class and football and basketball take a front seat to academics in High School. Not so in China, India, and Europe, academics is number one in most of the rest of the developed world, sports is ancillary.
  • Sigh
    I laugh uproariously when a Republican goes on and on about "the will of the voters." May I remind Bosma and Co. that Ritz received more votes than even Mike Pence? Perhaps she should run for Governor...
  • Another Power Play by the Republicans
    Another Power Play by the Republicans! The Republican Party / Tea Party are still upset that Indiana State Superintendent Glenda Ritz [a Democrat] defeated their "Boy" Tony Bennett in the General Election!

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