Sunday, November 3, 2013

Vic’s Statehouse Notes #158 – November 2, 2013

Dear Friends,

Gov. Pence’s State Board of Education proposed a seriously flawed plan to speed up the A-F school letter grades “in time for the Board’s official approval this November,” in the words of their October 16th letter to Speaker Bosma and President Pro Tempore Long.

The flaws are two-fold:
  • Approval in their November meeting would have meant public announcement of school grades that did not include the rescored tests that CTB/McGraw Hill is still processing. Rescored tests have been promised by November 5th. The General Assembly gave parents the right to request rescores of tests, and now the State Board wants to approve grades before the rescored tests are available to be included in the calculations.
  • Approval in their November meeting would have meant public announcement of schools grades without first allowing the appeals process that schools have after receiving their preliminary letter grades. Checking the data at the local level is an important part of achieving accuracy in a complex set of calculations.
It’s hard to fathom why the educators on the State Board thought it was a good plan to make school letter grades public without the rescored test data and before the appeals process.

It’s hard to fathom why the Speaker and the Senate President approved their plan in less than 24 hours.

It’s hard to fathom why Governor Pence sent his State Board on this aggressive move to challenge the authority of Superintendent Ritz based on this flawed plan.

Superintendent Ritz should be thanked for slowing the State Board members down so that schools do not have to deal with premature letter grades. Here are the details:

The Price of Inaccurate Early Public Announcements

The reputation and even the survival of schools are at stake in this A-F system, and therefore schools take school letter grades very seriously. They don’t want any public announcement until the student data and the calculations have been scrubbed for accuracy.

Apparently the Governor and members of the State Board are more casual about this matter. Their plan would put grades out based on incomplete data and appeals, and then make corrections later as needed.

The October 19th Indianapolis Star quoted State Board member Andrea Neal as follows: “She said she wasn’t aware of any information for which the department is waiting and even if a few scores are changed, calculations can be changed later. ‘To me, that sounds like an excuse to delay the release of the scores,’ she said.”

What would happen if the scores for schools are announced quickly but inaccurately? Would it make any difference? Could we change calculations later? There are two possibilities for calculation changes:
Possibility #1: Schools might be given a low grade in the early public announcement and a higher grade when all data are in. Schools would be damaged in this case because the first announcement gets the most public attention. Schools know that press coverage of corrections would be minimal or non-existent and that the first poor impression would linger in the mind of the public. Impressions in the mind of the public are absolutely vital in the competitive voucher marketplace we now have in Indiana. Also, since teacher compensation formulas now include school letter grades as a factor, an incorrect low grade would give affected teachers lower payments than earned which would have to be corrected with additional payments.

Possibility #2: Schools might be given a high grade in the first public announcement and a lower grade later. Schools would be damaged in this case as well. They would have to explain to their parents and the local community why the grade went down, a story no school likes to tell. Regarding teacher compensation formulas, payments issued based on incorrect high grades would have to be corrected by asking teachers to repay a portion of the money already in their hands, an awkward situation that nobody would like to see.
Either way, schools are damaged. Both possibilities are unacceptable to schools.

There is no question that school letter grades must be based on accurate data that has been checked and verified. Time must be taken to get it right.

The Power of Governor Pence

The Governor and his State Board members have jumped the gun to ask for quick help from the LSA. After reflecting on this matter, it is hard to believe they were thinking clearly in asking to speed up the announcement of letter grades.

The Governor apparently believes that he should determine education policy through his appointed State Board members, rather than Superintendent Ritz. He apparently believes that he has better policies than she does. This aggressive gambit to take student data out of Superintendent Ritz’s hands and approve the letter grades in November is not a better policy. It does not build confidence in his leadership. If he has more power than Superintendent Ritz, one would hope he would use that power more wisely.

In this episode to seize the student data, he and his State Board have failed the test of wisdom.

Superintendent Ritz filed suit based on the Open Door statute to slow down this State Board action. Ironically, the hearing on her suit will be held in Marion County Circuit Court on Tuesday, November 5th at 1:30pm, the same day CTB/McGraw Hill has promised to return the rescores to IDOE so that final calculations of school letter grades can be made.

Public school advocates need to continue to contact Gov. Pence, State Board members and members of the legislature to keep student test data from becoming a political football. Some pundits have tried to blame Superintendent Ritz for this controversy and to make her look incompetent when in reality her lawsuit has restored order and accuracy to the timeline for issuing the A-F letter grades. Her actions have protected schools from a chaotic game of “Who has the A-F data and whose letter grades are the real letter grades?”

Governor Pence’s State Board of Education has immersed Indiana in a needless controversy over a flawed plan to speed up letter grades. Let’s hope that if Governor Pence wants to exert his power in the education arena, he will do so for policies that make sense and will not do damage to schools as this plan would.

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 renew by going to our website.

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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