Monday, October 21, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #157 – October 21, 2013

Dear Friends,

Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long have voluntarily leaped into the quicksand of the A-F controversy. Will they have better luck getting out of it than did Dr. Bennett?

In an absolutely astounding move, they have turned Indiana student test data into a political football in the battle for control of the educational policy agenda in Indiana. That is not wise public policy.

In a letter dated Friday, October 18th, Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long instructed the Legislative Services Agency, the bipartisan service agency of the General Assembly, to calculate the A-F grades so that the State Board could officially approve the grades at their November meeting. Issuing this instruction indicates their agreement with the October 16th complaint of State Board members that the Indiana Department of Education had inappropriately delayed the A-F school letter grades, which are based on student test scores.

This all occurred while Superintendent Ritz was in China on a trip organized by Global Indiana.

The leaders of the House and Senate by these actions have now involved the entire General Assembly in this A-F controversy, which previously was confined to the State Board of Education. Rep. Vernon Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, has now called for the State Board members to resign.

I urge all public school advocates in Indiana to read the following details and then contact legislators and State Board members with your concerns about the A-F system.

The Letter of October 16th

In a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Long and House Speaker Bosma dated October 16, 2013, the members of the State Board wrote: “We are writing to express our concern regarding the delay by the Indiana Department of Education in providing A-F Grades for the 2012-13 school year to the State Board of Education and to request the assistance of Legislative Services Agency in calculating the grades in time for the Board’s official approval this November.”

I attended the long State Board meeting on October 2nd and heard along with the Board several discussions about the A-F system. The Board was told that letter grades would be issued by Thanksgiving. No board member raised a question when that was said. Now, though, apparently, impatience has set in and the State Board is attributing intentional delays by the IDOE as the problem and wants LSA to take over the data.

Have there been intentional delays by the Department? I can’t see any. The ISTEP scores took months to assess after the CTB/McGraw Hill computer debacle to determine which student scores should be invalidated. When that was done, the parent right to request a rescore had to be honored, and CTB/McGraw Hill will require until November 5th to complete all of the rescored tests. Then and only then will all the data be available for calculating grades. If you are wondering who allowed parents to request a rescore which would obviously slow down the rush to grades, the answer is: The General Assembly. Recent legislation confirmed the right of parents to ask for a rescore, which is especially important for essay questions and constructed response items.

Later in the letter, the State Board members said, “We are now mid-way through October, and the Department has yet to report 2012-13 A-F grades or release teacher effectiveness ratings as required under Indiana law.” One year ago, with no computer glitches in the administration of the test, Dr. Bennett took until October 31st to release the A-F letter grades. Is the State Board trying to blame Superintendent Ritz for the CTB/McGraw Hill testing problems that generated a delay of several months?

While dated October 16th, Speaker Bosma and President Pro Temp Long received the letter late on October 17th, by their own account. Officials in the Indiana Department of Education reported that an email arrived late on October 17th, but it was not actually seen by anyone in IDOE until Friday, October 18th, after the media called to ask for a response. With Superintendent Ritz out of the country, it fell to David Galvin, director of communications for IDOE, to respond. He was quoted in the Star as follows: “The State Board of Education has jumped the gun. No one can calculate the A-F grades without the finalized ISTEP scores. We want to do this right and accurately.”

The Letter of October 18th

Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long wrote a letter dated October 18, 2013 to George Angelone, Executive Director of the Legislative Services Agency which began: “Please see the enclosed letter from the members of the Indiana State Board of Education (Board), which we received late last evening by email. As you will see, it expresses the Board’s concerns that the delay in the issuance in the A-F grades for the 2012-13 school year will have a negative effect on a number of important aspects of our education system. The letter requests that we instruct the Legislative Services Agency to enter into a data sharing Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Education as soon as possible and provide the calculation the A-F grades for the 2012 -13 school year to the Board.”

I have observed over many years that the Indiana Department of Education takes very seriously the trust that is placed in them to maintain the accuracy and the privacy of student data. For the first 20 years of my 40 year career, there was not enough trust in the state to allow any individual student records to be kept in Indianapolis. All records were kept locally. Gradually with the rise of state testing in the late 1980’s and later the interest in tracking individual progress to graduation using student testing numbers, parents trusted the state to fairly and properly handle student test data.

Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long have now put that trust at risk. 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.

The letter notes that transferring the data to LSA requires a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Education. This involves procedures to protect the privacy, accuracy and integrity of the data. In order to investigate the A-F grading controversy from Dr. Bennett’s emails, an MOU was established to between LSA and IDOE to allow two computer systems to run the A-F data as a double check on accuracy. This was done as part of the Grew/Sheldrake report. That report is now done, and that Memorandum of Understanding is over. The proposal to create a new MOU for this new purpose leaves several questions:
  1. Can IDOE be forced to enter into an MOU for a purpose they believe is essentially a partisan political attack?
  2. Does Superintendent Ritz have a say on whether an MOU will transfer student data to the legislature?
  3. What safeguards will parents and educators be given to assure that the test data of their students will not be used for political purposes if it is in the hands of the legislature?
  4. If LSA has all the student data, can members of the General Assembly request access to student test data for groups or even for individuals?
  5. Is the State Board asking for a permanent transfer of student data to LSA leading to the elimination of IDOE staff that have been caring for the student data files?
  6. Can this entire policy on student data be changed by one letter from Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long issued on a Friday when few are watching? Shouldn’t the General Assembly hold hearings before moving student data out of the Department of Education?
The New Amnesia about the Current A-F System

Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long have apparently had amnesia since their April legislation addressing the current A-F system.

The overarching surreal aspect of this astounding new controversy is a move to speed up letter grades for schools using a formula that has already been discredited and voided by the Indiana General Assembly. While the State Board is still in love with their A-F formula that they devised with Dr. Bennett, members of the General Assembly are not. They listened to constituents after the first grades were given last Oct. 31st and passed HEA 1427 in April saying: “Sec. 5. (a) Not later than November 15, 2013, the state board shall establish new categories or designations of school performance under the requirements of this chapter to replace 511 IAC 6.2-6. “

Since 511 IAC 6.2-6 is the A-F system, the law seems totally clear. Lawmakers believed the A-F system was flawed and ordered a new A-F system by November 15th. The law reads on:
“The new standards of assessing school performance:
(1) must be based on a measurement of individual student academic performance and growth to proficiency; and
(2) may not be based on a measurement of student performance or growth compared with peers.”
These points correct the main flaw of the current system in using statistics in the Indiana Growth Model which compared the performance of students to other students, metrics known in the statistics world as “norm-referenced” measures. The preferred metrics measure students against fixed standards, known as “criterion-referenced” measures. The new law continues:
511 IAC 6.2-6 is void on the effective date of the emergency or final rules adopted under this section.
The current A-F system has been voided, but State Board Secretary Dan Elsener clearly spoke its praises at the October 2nd State Board meeting. He still likes it and wants to continue work with the consultant that Dr. Bennett used in devising it, Damian Betebenner. The old system will not be void until the State Board passes new rules for a new system, and Dan Elsener showed no interest in doing that any time soon. Now, with the October 16th letter, it is clear that the State Board is ignoring the flaws of the old system and is using it to try to embarrass Superintendent Ritz and to take control of the data from the IDOE.

Here is an amazing thing about HEA 1427 and the law voiding the A-F system that the State Board now wants to speed up: It was passed solely by the Republican caucus. Not one Democrat in the House or the Senate voted for it because it put the A-F labels in law for the first time. Voiding the law was the product of the work of Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long, and now they want to forget about voiding it and cut corners of data review to speed it to the public.


The Current System is Flawed

The collective amnesia that has set in on the flaws of the current A-F system, still praised by Dan Elsener, demands a brief reminder of the reasons why it was jettisoned by the members of the General Assembly:

Flaw #1: It was based primarily on the percent passing, rather than on improvement as PL221 called for. That meant that the kids near the pass line, the so-called “bubble” kids, get extra attention to try to get them over the pass line in the next test. There was no incentive to give all students an equal share of attention.

Flaw #2: The bonuses and demerits for growth were anemic, bumping grades up or down only a little.

Flaw #3: The growth model used for bonus points was based on peer comparison statistics. This led to amazing and unpredictable results about low-growth and high-growth students, especially for many highly talented students who scored very well consistently and a somehow got pegged as low-growth and a mark against the school. The ultimate example of this concern came when one superintendent and principal documented a student who got perfect scores two years in a row and was marked as low growth by the state metrics. An appeal on this case was rejected.

Flaw #4: When all was said and done, the current A-F system was badly miscalibrated. Many good schools were given low grades, damaging the economic development efforts of communities all over Indiana as they try to explain to prospective businesses why their strong local schools ended up with a low grade using a flawed grading system. Ask MacArthur School in Crown Point, a National Blue Ribbon School in Crown Point that Dr. Bennett’s system downgraded to a B. Ask Liberty Early Elementary in Decatur Township serving only kindergarten and younger students that Dr. Bennett’s system downgraded to a D based on ISTEP scores of students who had been gone from the school for three years. Ask William Bell #60 in IPS that Dr. Bennett’s system downgraded to an F even though it was reconstituted as a new magnet school for the Reggio early education model and served only K-2. Overall, 18.6% of our schools received D’s or F’s while in Florida at the time gave 6% of its schools D’s and F’s despite clear National Assessment scores showing that Indiana outscores Florida. Even after Dr. Bennett went to Florida and they toughened their system, September 2013 letter grades in Florida showed 16% D’s and F’s. If Indiana’s metrics produced low grades to only 16%, 48 Hoosier schools would have been saved the distraction of explaining a D or an F when they are actually performing at a higher level. The current system is not fair to Indiana’s schools.

Remove the Amnesia!

Hoosier educators, parents and community leaders thought they had won this battle and by Nov. 15, 2013 under the law they would have a new A-F system. If you have read this far, you now know that the advocates for Dr. Bennett’s system are extending it to the maximum possible and are using it to weaken the powers of Superintendent Ritz.

It is time to dust off all those letters and emails sent last year explaining your frustration with Dr. Bennett’s system and send them to the current actors who either never got or have forgotten the message. Tell them the story of how your school was aggrieved or how your student was inappropriately marked low-growth by an inexplicable peer-based growth measure. Send them to:
  • Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long
  • Members of the State Board, especially to the five new members who were not there last year when the flawed system was approved: Troy Albert, David Freitas, Gordon Hendry, Andrea Neal and Brad Oliver
  • Your local members of the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate
  • Members of the House Education Committee and the Senate Education Committee who should be involved in any major policy change about student data.
Hoosier school leaders don’t need the distractions and interruptions brought on by this manufactured crisis, but before good schools are damaged again by the flawed A-F system, state leaders should hear how you feel. Write on!

Thanks for your support and actions on behalf of public education!

Best wishes,

Vic Smith

ICPE is working to promote public education and oppose the privatization of schools in the Statehouse. We thank all who came to the three membership meeting this fall in Indianapolis, Lafayette and Bloomington. They were all excellent discussions! Many renewed their memberships at the meetings. If you have not done so since July 1, the start of our new membership year, we urge you to do so.
We need additional support to carry on our advocacy for public education. We need additional members and additional donations. We need your help!

Go to for membership and renewal information and for full information on our three ICPE membership meetings this fall. Thanks!

Some readers have asked about my background in Indiana public schools. Thanks for asking! Here is a brief bio:

I am a lifelong Hoosier and began teaching in 1969. I served as a social studies teacher, curriculum developer, state research and evaluation consultant, state social studies consultant, district social studies supervisor, assistant principal, principal, educational association staff member, and adjunct university professor. I worked for Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, the Indiana University Social Studies Development Center, the Indiana Department of Education, the Indianapolis Public Schools, IUPUI, and the Indiana Urban Schools Association, from which I retired as Associate Director in 2009. I hold three degrees: B.A. in Ed., Ball State University, 1969; M.S. in Ed., Indiana University, 1972; and Ed.D., Indiana University, 1977, along with a Teacher’s Life License and a Superintendent’s License, 1998.

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