INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The battle for control of Indiana’s education policy
escalated Friday when top Republican lawmakers shifted calculation of school
accountability grades for the 2012-2013 school year from the Department of
Education to the Legislature’s bill-drafting shop.
House Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem David Long signed off
on a request from Republican appointees to the State Board of Education.
The board members crafted a letter Wednesday questioning why Superintendent
Glenda Ritz has yet to release the A-F grades or teacher effectiveness
ratings. The letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press, also
requested that responsibility for compiling the rankings be shifted from the
Department of Education to the Legislature’s nonpartisan analysis and
The move comes amid an overhaul of the grading formula following a
grade-changing scandal involving former state schools chief Tony Bennett.
Bennett resigned as Florida’s schools chief in August after The Associated
Press reported he had overhauled Indiana’s grading formula to ensure a
charter school founded by a top Republican donor received an A.
It’s also the latest scuffle in what’s becoming a power struggle between
Republicans and Ritz, the lone Democrat holding a statewide office. Since
Ritz defeated Bennett last November, lawmakers have considered diluting her
power on the board, a Bennett ally on the board has taken control of
long-term planning for the group and Gov. Mike Pence created a second
education agency charged with shaping education policy along with
The A-F grades have become increasingly important in recent years. They help
determine teacher pay and school funding and whether schools that receive
failing grades are turned over to private operators. They also play a role
in home sales as families weigh education rankings before deciding where to
buy a house.
The letter sent Wednesday expresses concern that the grades haven’t been
released yet this year.
“As members of the Board, we send this letter out of concern for ensuring
that school accountability information is provided to Indiana schools,
educators, and families in as timely a manner as possible. We are now
mid-way through October, and the Department has yet to report 2012-2013 A-F
grades or release teacher effectiveness ratings as required under Indiana
law,” the group wrote.
Ten members of the 11-member board, all appointed by either former Gov.
Mitch Daniels or Pence, signed the letter.
Ritz is on an education trip to China. Though the letter was emailed to Ritz
and other board members Thursday night, DOE spokesman David Galvin said her
staff did not see the letter until Friday.
“The Pence-appointed state board of education and its staff is insistent on
perpetuating a rushed, inaccurate, and untested labeling system for our
schools,” Galvin said.
Friday’s move effectively places the running of data through Bennett’s
school-grading formula with the LSA, but leaves the final say on issuing
grades with the state board.
Two factors have consistently popped up in the debate over grading: speed
A pair of investigators hired by the state’s legislative leaders determined
Bennett and his team had rushed out school grades last year and operated
outside the public eye. As part of their monthlong investigation, Republican
analyst Bill Sheldrake and Democratic analyst John Grew were given access to
the raw data the Department of Education uses to calculate school grades.
The board members reasoned in their letter Wednesday that Grew and Sheldrake
proved legislative analysts can issue the letter grades faster than Ritz’s
office. They noted in the letter that the process could drag out even longer
because schools can appeal their grades.
Galvin noted that school rankings are based largely on ISTEP+ scores, which
were delayed after computer issues knocked thousands of students offline
while taking the test this spring. Galvin said that delay and fallout from
the Bennett grade-change scandal pushed the education department’s timeline
for releasing school grades to November.
Galvin said the department had told the board it would finalize ISTEP scores
at the start of next month and could have preliminary grades out by the end
of the month.
But that lengthy timeline is having a real impact on the state’s educators,
said Lou Ann Baker, a spokeswoman Pence’s new Center for Education and
Career Innovation, which staffs the state board of education.
“The Department of Education continues to drag their feet, despite public
statements, on topics that they are required by law, but that they
philosophically oppose,” she wrote in an email. “And their refusal to do
their job jeopardizes teacher raises, performance grants for schools, and
compliance with state and federal law. If they feel rushed, it is only
because they have chosen to put themselves in that position by not doing