State Board of Education pushes school grade release to December

2013-11-08T14:48:00Z 2013-12-09T02:24:20Z State Board of Education pushes school grade release to DecemberDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
November 08, 2013 2:48 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | Despite its repeated complaints that Glenda Ritz has taken too long to calculate school grades, the State Board of Education voted Friday to delay the public release of grades until the end of December.

The Republican-appointed board rejected a proposal by Ritz, the elected Democratic superintendent of public instruction, that would have had the board issue 2012-13 school grades Nov. 22 and allowed schools to appeal their grades until January.

Instead, the board opted to "do it the way we've always done it" — and seemingly gave more power to Ritz — by agreeing to have her Department of Education calculate tentative grades and privately send them to schools Nov. 15.

Schools will have one month to appeal their grades to Ritz before the board formally approves the Ritz-recommended grades at a to-be-scheduled late December meeting. Only then will the grades be released to Hoosier parents and taxpayers.

Tony Walker, the Gary attorney who represents Northwest Indiana on the state education board, said the board-approved plan will get the grades to schools faster.

"We wanted the schools to have the data so they could start internally checking where they were and preparing for their appeals, if necessary," Walker said. "Getting it out to the media or the public is not what we were after."

The board's decision appears to ignore a new state law that permits schools to appeal their grades only after the board issues the grades.

Instead of the public appeals process envisioned by that law, appeals instead will be handled once again internally by the department before schools even receive official board-issued grades.

In 2012, Republican former state Superintendent Tony Bennett used the informal appeals process to act without board permission and boost the grades of 165 schools, including a favored charter school. The board approved the manipulated grades without ever knowing they were changed.

Bennett resigned as Florida schools chief in July after his grade-changing was uncovered.

Walker said he doesn't believe the law precludes the board from having the department calculate grades and hear appeals prior to the board issuing grades.

"I don't agree with that interpretation," Walker said. "The actual timing of who gets what, when, is not specifically spelled out."

The board also is required by law to approve by Nov. 15 a new A-F model for grading schools starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Walker said the board should not act on the recommended A-F plan set for a board vote Wednesday because Indiana's educational standards and standardized testing program remain up in the air.

Republican Gov. Mike Pence and the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year paused implementing the board-approved Common Core educational standards while the lawmakers debate whether Indiana should remain part of the state-led standards and testing coalition.

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