The Indiana Department of Education is reviewing whether A-F performance grades to schools around the state could be canceled this year because regulations on setting those grades have expired.
Democratic state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz has been an opponent of the rating system — and its supporters say she is trying to undermine the process.
An Education Department document obtained by the The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne said the A-F system's regulations expired last November, which "creates legal issues by calculating grades when there is not administrative rule in place."
The Education Department has asked the state attorney general's office for a legal opinion, department spokesman Daniel Altman said.
"What we're doing is our normal due diligence on rule-making that we do every year," Altman said. "It gets very technical."
The State Board of Education, which is dominated by appointees of Republican Gov. Mike Pence, and Ritz have clashed repeatedly over the school rating system since she was elected as state superintendent in 2012.
Ritz asked board members in July to consider not giving lower A-F performance grades to schools for a year because of an expected drop in student scores on the ISTEP standardized exam taken last spring in grades 3 through 8 because of changes to the test standards.
Board of Education member Cari Whicker, a sixth-grade teacher in Huntington appointed by Pence, called the department's questioning of the regulations "a stretch."
"The superintendent has tried four or five times in the last three years to negate accountability, so I'm not surprised there would be another effort," Whicker said.
The school grades help determine factors such as teacher pay raises and whether the schools could take state intervention.
A new A-to-F rule is already in place for the 2015-16 school year, spurred by legislators who didn't like the current formula. This year was to be the last time the current formula was used.
The Education Department is hinging its argument on part of a 2013 bill that called for the new formula and says an emergency rule adopted under the bill expired Nov. 15, 2014.
Marc Lotter, spokesman for the State Board of Education, said the current A-to-F rule is a permanent rule — not emergency — so he is unclear why it would have expired.
McGraw-Hill Education CTB, the state's testing provider, said last month that student ISTEP scores won't be available until mid-December, meaning the A-to-F grades wouldn't be issued until early next year.
Betsy Wiley, president of the Indianapolis-based school choice group Institute for Quality Education, said she believed Ritz's prediction of a big drop in student test scores is meant to cause some panic for schools that might build opposition against the accountability grades.
"They are consistent in their continued efforts to derail accountability," Wiley said.