INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The State Board of Education agreed Friday on a timeline
for calculating and releasing school grades, shortly before a Marion County
judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by state schools Superintendent Glenda
Ritz over control of those results.
The board also began consideration of a new school-grading formula, ahead of
a Nov. 15 deadline for approval set by lawmakers earlier this year.
Indiana’s A-F school grades have been the center of a string of
controversies, from widespread accuracy concerns when they were first issued
last year, to the grade-changing scandal that cost former schools
Superintendent Tony Bennett his job as Florida’s schools chief, plus the
most recent school board battle that escalated into a lawsuit.
“I am disappointed in today’s ruling and concerned for all Hoosiers that
have their lives affected by unelected boards, including those that meet,
perhaps, in secret,” Ritz said Friday after the board meeting.
Ritz, a Democrat, chairs the board, but the other 10 members have been
appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Pence or former Republican Gov. Mitch
Daniels. Tensions between Ritz and the other members have been growing
steadily over the past year.
New member Gordon Hendry attempted to break the tension Friday, at the start
of their first meeting since Ritz filed a lawsuit against him and the other
members. “Let the record reflect I came back,” said Hendry, a Democratic
board member recently appointed by Pence. “I hope this meeting will be a
kinder, gentler one.”
Ritz alleged the other members had violated Indiana’s open meetings law when
they went around her last month to move calculation of the school grades to
an arm of the General Assembly. Board members have complained that Ritz has
dragged her feet on the school grades, a measure she opposed on the campaign
trail but is now tasked with enforcing as the superintendent. But Friday’s
unanimous decision by the board on a timeline for issuing the grades
appeared to make many of the arguments from both sides moot.
The board agreed to issue preliminary grades to schools by the end of next
week and could make the grades public by the end of the year, following an
appeals process. The grades, a new iteration of the state’s school
evaluation system, are used in part to determine teacher pay and school
funding. They also have become an increasingly important tool in assessing
neighborhoods and communities.
Lawmakers had already decided earlier this year to seek an overhaul of the
grading formula when emails were published showing Bennett and his staff had
reworked the formula to raise a campaign donor’s charter school from a C to
an A. In the wake of the scandal, a bipartisan group was formed to craft a
new formula with greater transparency and a more thorough test-run of the
grades. That group delivered its recommendations to the board Friday.
Meanwhile, the grades for the 2012-2013 school year and the following school
year will be run through the Bennett model.
The board agreed Friday to have Ritz’s Department of Education calculate the
grades at the same time the General Assembly’s Legislative Services Agency
runs the formula.