DOE, Board and Ritz Spar Over Grading System in Indiana


After months of discussion and public comment on the proposed language to be used for Indiana's new A-F school grading system, a vote to approve the final language was postponed when the Department of Education presented about 20 additional edits this week.

Some board members said they had never seen the edits, according to Rachel Morello of WBAA Public Radio from Purdue University.

Recent legislation, which has been approved by the General Assembly, is aimed at correcting this kind of communication problem among the board, the department, and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz. Lawyers for the board recommended voting on rule language as it was prior to this week's meeting, They explained that the attorney general could overturn changes that did not require public comment. The board agreed.

"We're going to have a fair, transparent accountability system, and I look forward to working…through the process to get those technical corrections that my department felt were important to making sure that the rule is as clear as it can possibly be," Ritz says.

Now the rule goes to the Attorney General, the governor, and the state's Legislative Services Agency. If substantive changes are necessary, there will likely be a new or amended rule which would have to be approved by the state school board, and that could take up to a year to finalize.

The revised system is designed to focus on student improvement and not just overall achievement. This change will allow schools with a large number of at-risk students to earn higher grades if student test scores or graduation rates improve, but continue to fall below state averages or passing grades.

"This rule reflects the overwhelming desire of teachers and administrators to give equal weight to student performance and growth in the state's new A-F model," board member Gordon Hendry said in a statement after the 8-1 vote.

The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that a tense battle occurred during the meeting between Ritz and the board when Ritz attempted to propose changes. This came just hours before Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that would overhaul the board beginning on July 1. The law will take two of Pence's 10 appointments and gives them to legislative leaders. Additionally, it would, after Ritz finishes her term of office, removes the automatic appointment of the superintendent to the board's chairmanship.

One board member, Andre Neal, argued that too much weight is being given to test results for elementary and middle school grades. She insisted that the state consider other factors or schools will "teach to the test" and neglect subjects or issues that are not part of the assessments, which would further narrow curriculum.

Basically, the new A-F grading model, slated for use in the 2015-2016 school year, replaces the four-point scale with a simpler 100-point rating system, writes Times Media Company's Dan Carden. The new rating idea will be equally based on standardized test performance and school-year growth in student achievement. Ritz believes that this measurement plan will finally allow educators, parents, and students to know what needs to be done in order to improve.

Ritz says she may consider running for governor, in part because of the attacks she has endured from Pence and other Republican legislators. The Indiana Star's Kris Turner reports that Ritz has said she is staying put until she is sure the A-F standards are perfectly clear.

"There's nothing more important than having that right for the schools in Indiana," she said.

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