Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

As Ritz Supporters Cry Foul, State Board Member Says Superintendent Will Still Calculate A-F Grades

    State Board of Education members Gordon Hendry, Dan Elsener, Cari Whicker and Brad Oliver listen to a presentation during the October meeting.

    Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

    State Board of Education members Gordon Hendry, Dan Elsener, Cari Whicker and Brad Oliver listen to a presentation during the October meeting.

    Late last week, the 10 appointed members of the State Board of Education asked state legislators to intervene in the release of data used to calculate A-F school ratings.

    “I think the State Board feels like this is what we have to do,” says board member Cari Whicker of the letter sent to state legislative leaders, requesting the Indiana Department of Education release the information to the state Legislative Services Agency, or LSA.

    State Superintendent Glenda Ritz received the request, originally sent to Speaker of the House Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long, on Thursday. IDOE spokesman David Galvin says the department can’t release scores until after Nov. 5, when testing company CTB/McGraw-Hill will release results exams that had to be rescored.

    But Whicker tells StateImpact all board members are asking for at this point is preliminary data.

    “We’re not taking this away from Ritz’s office,” says Whicker. “They’re still going to have to run the numbers. But if LSA is going to run the numbers as counter check, they why not give them the data now? Then when the DOE runs the numbers, they’re ready to roll.”

    That’s not how supporters of the state superintendent interpreted the move. They lit up social media over the weekend, circulating a petition for Indiana lawmakers to amend state code to make seats on the State Board elected positions.

    Last year, final school letter grades came out Oct. 31 — but schools had their preliminary grades in mid-September. This year, computer glitches during the spring ISTEP+ exam as well as controversy surrounding former state superintendent Tony Bennett’s oversight of the grading system delayed results.

    But as Whicker points out, it’s been more than a month since an independent review called the prior administrations’ actions “plausible” and “consistently applied.”

    The two analysts also recommended that LSA review the calculations used to determine school grades in the future — a suggestion Ritz said she’d take at the October board meeting.

    “It’s grades from last year,” says Whicker. “They’re part of RISE. Part of teachers’ evaluations are based on school letter grades. Their evaluations are being held up. Their raises are being held up.”

    Whicker says it’s no secret that Superintendent Ritz doesn’t agree with many of the policies the State Board has supported in the past — including assigning letter grades to public schools.

    “The Superintendent of Public Instruction has great value and great authority and a large position here in Indiana,” says Whicker, “but the board has a position, too.”

    In an email newsletter, Ritz supporter Vic Smith writes that the State Board is in essence playing “political football” with education policy in Indiana:

    Parents can legitimately ask why student data is being involved in a clearly partisan dispute between the Republican leadership in the Statehouse and Superintendent Ritz, the only Democrat holding statewide office.  This is clearly a manufactured crisis by members of the State Board that want more control over the pace of A-F grade announcements.  The voters put Superintendent Ritz in charge by a wide margin, but the State Board members are undermining her reputation with complaints of delays and a move to transfer the data to LSA.

    CLARIFICATION, 9:46 a.m. 10/23/13: An earlier version of this story included a headline that indicated Superintendent Ritz’s office would still issue final A-F ratings. The IDOE will calculate the school letter grades, but the State Board must approve the final ratings.


    About StateImpact

    StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
    Learn More »