Candidates for the state's top educator differed Friday on strategies to evaluate student reading levels in a debate broadcast by a Northeast Indiana radio station.
Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, Glenda Ritz, took aim at the state requiring that third-graders pass a standardized test on phonics, vocabulary and reading comprehension before moving on to fourth grade.
"We don't need a pass/fail test at grade three to make sure students are on track with their reading," said Ritz, noting that some students don't attend school until first grade.
Incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican, called it a "moral imperative to not mislead children and their parents and to stop the pattern of social promotion that sends children through the education system without necessary skills."
On low performing schools, Bennett said accountability has worked in Indiana, citing a decrease in the number of schools on the state intervention list from 30 when he first took office in 2009 to one this year.
Bennett said he doesn't believe the state should slow down on taking over schools until knowing the results of Gary Roosevelt and other schools where the state has intervened and brought in outside management companies.
"We have the obligation to children in those communities to turn those failures into successes," Bennett said.
Ritz said she's in favor of local control and feels it is the Indiana Department of Education's responsibility to work with schools in a bottom-up approach.
"I do not believe in taking over schools in any circumstance," Ritz said.