Future of Schools

Indiana delays release of A to F school grades

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indiana State Board of Education members shelved today’s planned release of A to F grades for all Indiana schools after a sharp debate which included criticism of whether state Superintendent Glenda Ritz and her lieutenants properly screened the data for errors.

A mistake in the data that was brought to light at the state board meeting affected about five of more than 2,100 schools, but board members decided they wanted an outside review to double check the grades before approving them and making them public.

The schools in question might have lost credit toward their grades because of a mistake by a company that administers International Baccalaureate tests that high school students take when they finish advanced classes, state officials said. Indiana Department of Education staff said they discovered late in the grading process that the company had accidentally failed to submit results for Indiana students at about five schools but told the board the error would be fixed.

High schools get extra credit toward their grades when students successfully complete advanced classes. Representatives for Carmel’s Guerin Catholic High School said they were given a zero on that measure and the school’s appeal was denied. Education department officials said today that they were in the process of correcting that error, which could change the grade for Guerin and a handful of others. They suggested the board approve the rest of the A to F grades and vote separately to assign grades to the affected schools next month.

But state board members said they wanted the rest of the grades checked by the Legislative Service Agency to assure they were correct. That meant schools weren’t able to publicly release their school grades today as planned.

“The department has the incredible task of calculating (grades) and the board has the statutory duty to make sure they are right until we release them,” Brad Oliver said.

Ritz said minor data errors occurred every year and urged the board to follow the education department’s recommendation to go ahead with the release of grades. But later, she voted with the majority to table the grades until the next meeting on Nov. 5. Only Gordon Hendry voted no on Brad Oliver’s motion, which passed 7-1.

Ritz said she was willing all along to submit the data for an outside evaluation, and that’s why she voted in favor of Oliver’s motion. In fact, she said, the department already shared the data with Legislative Service Agency for double checking.

“I’ve been a proponent of making sure that happens,” she said.

The debate recalled last year’s battle between Ritz and the rest of the board over delaying the release of A to F grades, but this time the board and the education department took opposite positions from where they stood in 2013.

Last year, board members grew frustrated when grades were not released by mid-October and sought to circumvent Ritz to release the grades over her objections. Last Oct. 16 — almost a year ago to the day — board members sent a letter to legislative leaders asking them to direct the Legislative Service Agency, which provides data and other supports to state lawmakers, to calculate the grades. Ritz responded with a lawsuit, later dismissed, arguing the board violated state open meetings law by deciding to send the letter outside of a public meeting.

Last year, Ritz said glitches that occurred when students took the state ISTEP test online slowed the education department’s work to prepare the grades, but other state board members believed she was dragging her feet. After an acrimonious month of tense board meetings, the grades were rechecked by LSA and finally issued this past December.

This time, it was the education department arguing there was no need to delay the release and the board members asking to hold off so LSA again could check its work. Board members directed criticism at Ritz and her team for not ensuring that check was done before the board vote was scheduled.

“Somehow a lack of leadership a lack of attention to detail places us in a really bad position because school superintendents and schools are looking for this info today, and you have not provided some of the key ingredients to us to making a complete decision,” board member David Freitas said.

Board member Andrea Neal said she was surprised department officials did not catch the error with International Baccalaureate results before local school officials noticed problems and did not move more quickly to investigate.

“If they hadn’t caught it, we’d release the wrong grades for other schools,” she said. “It makes sense to take a step back, make sure all grades have been properly given that once over, and it’s a matter of a couple of weeks, so what’s the harm?”

Ritz, however countered the data-checking process worked just as it was supposed to. Each year, she said, a small number of errors are found among the large amounts of data that make up the system, usually when schools notice something out of the ordinary.

“That’s the whole process of the appeal,” she said. “We give over a month for people to appeal so that we can make sure all the data is correct. All the schools are involved.”

documenting hate

Tell Chalkbeat about hate crimes in your schools

Chalkbeat is joining the Documenting Hate consortium organized by ProPublica to better understand the scope and nature of bias incidents and hate crimes in schools.

You may have heard of the project — it’s already fueled some powerful journalism over by dozens of news organizations. We’re joining now both because we want to better understand this issue and because Francisco Vara-Orta, who wrote this piece for Education Week on how those incidents marked the months after President Trump’s election, recently joined our team.

Hate crimes and bias incidents are hard to track. Five states don’t have a hate crimes law at all, and when they happen in schools, data are not uniformly collected by a federal agency. But we know they do happen and that they affect classrooms, with teachers often unprepared to address them.

Without data, it’s harder to understand the issue and for policymakers to take action. That’s why we want to help fill in those gaps.

If you have witnessed or been the victim of a suspected hate crime or bias incident at school, you can submit information through the form below. Journalists at Chalkbeat and other media organizations will review and verify submissions, but won’t share your name or contact information with anyone outside of the Documenting Hate consortium.

IPS School Board Race 2018

Indiana teachers union spends big on Indianapolis Public Schools in election

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
IPS board candidate signs

The political arm of Indiana’s largest teachers union is spending big on the Indianapolis Public Schools board. The group donated $68,400 to three candidates vying for seats on the board this November, according to pre-election campaign finance disclosures released Friday.

The three candidates — Susan Collins, Michele Lorbieski, and Taria Slack — have all expressed criticism of the current board and the leadership of Superintendent Lewis Ferebee. Although that criticism touches on many issues, one particular bone of contention is the district’s embrace of innovation schools, independent campuses that are run by charter or nonprofit operators but remain under the district’s umbrella. Teachers at those schools are employed by the school operators, so they cannot join the union.

The trio was also endorsed by the IPS Community Coalition, a local group that has received funding from a national teachers union.

It’s not unusual for teachers unions to spend on school board elections. In 2016, the union contributed $15,000 to an unsuccessful at-large candidate for the Indianapolis Public Schools board. But $68,400 dwarfs that contribution. Those disclosures do not capture the full spending on the election. The three candidates endorsed by Stand for Children Indiana — Mary Ann Sullivan, Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, and Evan Hawkins — are likely getting significant unreported benefits.

Stand for Children, which supports innovation schools, typically sends mailers and hires campaign workers to support the candidates it endorses. But it is not required to disclose all of its political activity because it is an independent expenditure committee, also known as a 501(c)(4), for the tax code section that covers it. The group did not immediately respond to a request for information on how much it is spending on this race.

The candidates’ fundraising varied widely in the reporting period, which covered the period from April 14 to Oct. 12, with Taria Slack bringing in $28,950 and Joanna Krumel raising $200. In recent years, candidates have been raising significantly more money than had been common. But one recent candidate managed to win on a shoestring: Elizabeth Gore won an at-large seat in 2016 after raising about $1,200.

Read more: See candidates’ answers to a Chalkbeat survey

One part of Stand for Children’s spending became visible this year when it gave directly to tax campaigns. The group contributed $188,842 to the campaign for two tax referendums to raise money for Indianapolis Public Schools. That includes a $100,000 donation that was announced in August and about $88,842 worth of in-kind contributions such as mailers. The group has a team of campaign workers who have been going door-to-door for months.

The district is seeking to persuade voters to support two tax increases. One would raise $220 million for operating funds, such as teacher salaries, over eight years. A second measure would raise $52 million for building improvements. Donations from Stand for Children largely power the Vote Yes for IPS campaign, which raised a total of $201,717. The Indiana teachers union also contributed $5,000.

Here are the details on how much each candidate has raised and some of the notable contributions:

At large

Incumbent Mary Ann Sullivan, a former Democrat state lawmaker, raised $7,054. Her largest contribution came from the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which donated $4,670. She also received $1,000 from Steel House, a metal warehouse run by businessman Reid Litwack. She also received several donations of $250 or less.

Retired Indianapolis Public Schools teacher Susan Collins, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $16,422. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $15,000. She also received several donations of $200 or less.

Ceramics studio owner and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Joanna Krumel raised $200. Her largest contribution, $100, came from James W. Hill.

District 3

Marian University Executive Director of Facilities and Procurement and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Evan Hawkins raised $22,037. His largest contributions from individuals were from businessmen Allan Hubbard, who donated $5,000, and Litwack, who donated $2,500. The Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee contributed $4,670 and web design valued at $330. He also received several donations of $1,000 or less. His donors included IPS board member Venita Moore, retiring IPS board member Kelly Bentley’s campaign, and the CEO of The Mind Trust, Brandon Brown.

Frost Brown Todd trial attorney and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Michele Lorbieski, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $27,345. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $24,900. She also received several contributions of $250 or less.

Pike Township schools Director of Information Services Sherry Shelton raised $1,763, primarily from money she contributed. David Green contributed $116.

District 5

Incumbent Dorene Rodríguez Hoops, an Indianapolis Public Schools parent, raised $16,006. Her largest contributors include Hubbard, who donated $5,000; the Indy Chamber Business Advocacy Committee, which gave $4,670 and web design valued at $330; and the MIBOR PAC, which contributed $1,000. She also received several contributions of $500 or less, including from Bentley.

Federal employee and Indianapolis Public Schools parent Taria Slack, who is one of the candidates supported by the union, raised $28,950. The Indiana Political Action Committee for Education contributed $28,500.