State Board of Education will take on A-to-F delay this week

The Indiana State Board of Education is expected to vote to direct state Superintendent Glenda Ritz to issue delayed school A-to-F grades for 2014-15 at its meeting Wednesday despite questions raised by Ritz about whether the rules for calculating those grades have technically expired.

Last month, test-maker CTB said its problems scoring state ISTEP tests would delay the release of student scores — the backbone of state systems for rating both schools and teachers — by several months. That long a delay can mean all sorts of problems. Schools use the scores to help determine teacher raises, for example, and A-to-F grades help the state board decide if it needs to take over schools with repeated F-grades.

But the problems go beyond the late-arriving test scores.

Ritz’s team argued earlier this month that the state board’s actions last year to change the way they issued grades for a handful of schools with unusual grade configurations — such as those with some elementary grades and some high school grades — had a secondary effect of invalidating the entire A-to-F system.

The rules, they said, indicate even a small change means there is a new system, and the old system no longer is in effect.

That’s not true, said Rep. Bob Behning, chairman of the House Education Committee. The General Assembly never intended to create a system that could fall apart so easily, he said.

“There was never intent for us to unravel our accountability over this,” Behning said. “A rule generally never trumps law, and the rule is still the place it’s been in statue that we have to issue A-to-F grades.”

If there was a problem with the rule or their interpretation, he said, it was up to the Indiana Department of Education to ask for a fix during the legislative session.

“If you knew about it, and your timeline is such that you knew that this was a problem before or even during session, isn’t it your responsibility as an agency to share with the legislative leadership that you’ve got some concerns and you want guidance, rather than wait until everyone is gone?” Behning said.

Matt Light, from the Indiana attorney general’s office, said in a letter to the board and the department that an expiring emergency rule would not invalidate A-to-F grades and doesn’t negate state law that requires grades to be issued each year.

In fact, that same law blocks another proposal Ritz has made, he wrote. She has suggested A-to-F school grades be “paused” for 2014-15. Ritz proposed grades only be changed and made public if they were better than those from 2014. If scores went down, she said, grades should stay the same.

That won’t work, Light wrote.

“We do not believe schools could be treated differently in this context, which would be the case if some schools are graded just based on ’14-’15 data and others are graded based on multiple years’ data,” he wrote.

Ritz and her team have tried to persuade the state board to “pause” accountability and school grades several times. Recently, those arguments have been spurred on by difficulties schools have had as they quickly implement new academic standards and give new tests after Indiana dumped Common Core standards in 2014.

A new system for determining A-to-F grades that equally weighs student scores and improvement over prior years goes into effect for 2016 grades.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the board is expected to vote on:

New rules for reporting discipline data. The changes would simplify parts of the reporting process for schools by including data on bullying, arrests, gang activity and restraint and seclusion incidents into a single collection. The state is also adding new categories schools can use to report incidents, including theft, sexual misconduct and technology misuse, so they don’t have to use the vague “other” category. This kind of clarification, some educators say, could help reduce cases where black students are disciplined more frequently and harshly than others.

Final cut-off scores for teacher licensure tests. Last month the board gave initial approval to changes to teacher tests that would make them easier to pass in some subjects and harder to pass in others.

College and career readiness test details. Students who don’t make the recommended cut-off scores on tests commonly used for college admission, such as the ACT and SAT, fail Indiana’s state end-of-course exams or get at least a B-grade in advanced or dual credit classes are required by state law to take the college Accuplacer test as high school juniors. The test is used by colleges to determine if incoming students need remedial classes. If those scores are lower than what is recommended for admission by Ivy Tech Community College, schools will be able to use the results to see where students might need extra help to be ready for college. The board must approve what criteria make a student eligible to take the test.