State education board trying to bypass Ritz on school grades

2013-10-21T13:56:00Z 2013-10-21T22:19:16Z State education board trying to bypass Ritz on school gradesBy Dan Carden, (317) 637-9078
October 21, 2013 1:56 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The Republican-appointed State Board of Education appears ready to ignore state law concerning A-F school grades in its latest attempt to circumvent Glenda Ritz, the Democratic state superintendent of public instruction.

The Indiana Code requires the board issue grades for schools based on performance measures calculated only by Ritz's Department of Education.

However, in response to a board complaint that Ritz is taking too long, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President David Long, R-Fort Wayne, have agreed to the board's request that the Legislative Services Agency calculate school grades instead.

In a letter written to Bosma and Long, the board urges LSA -- the General Assembly's nonpartisan legislation writers and analysts -- calculate school grades "as soon as possible," so the board officially can approve the grades without waiting for Ritz's results. The next board meeting is set for Nov. 6.

"We ... believe that LSA is in an excellent position to provide an alternative solution to the continued postponement of the release of A-F grades by the department," writes Tony Walker, of Gary, and the nine other board members appointed by Gov. Mike Pence and former Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Ritz spokesman David Galvin said the education department isn't dragging its feet. The grades are delayed due to vendor-caused ISTEP+ standardized test glitches that postponed the final release of re-scored test results to Nov. 5, he said.

"The State Board of Education knew three weeks ago that the grades would be calculated before Thanksgiving," Galvin said. "LSA ... would not be able to run the calculations, because they don't have all the data; no one does."

Polls show Hoosiers generally like the idea of using a single letter grade to indicate school quality. But in practice the school grading system required by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and established in 2011 by the State Board of Education has been seen as a failure.

Former State Superintendent Tony Bennett, a Republican, boosted the grades of 165 schools -- without board permission -- just days before the 2012 election that he lost to Ritz. Bennett resigned as Florida schools chief in July when his grade changes were uncovered.

Even before the Bennett scandal, the General Assembly ordered the State Board of Education develop by Nov. 15 a new A-F school grading system that is more understandable and places greater weight on individual student growth and achievement.

That task has been complicated by the poisonous relationship between the board and Ritz, its chairwoman.

Led by Daniel Elsener, the board routinely excludes Ritz from planning sessions, attempts to undermine her authority and refuses to listen to reports by Ritz's staff -- even though Pence and Ritz vowed to work together for Hoosier students when both started their terms this year.

"It appears that the governor has lost control of his board," Galvin said.

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