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Last updated: Tue. Oct. 22, 2013 - 04:46 pm EDT

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz sues state board of education

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INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz filed suit Tuesday morning alleging apparent violations of the Open Door Law by members of the State Board of Education.

She named the 10 members of the board as defendants. The lawsuit alleges that the named members of the State Board violated Indiana's Open Door Law by taking action in secret by drafting, or directing the drafting of, a letter they sent to Senate President Pro Tempore David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma dated October 16, 2013.

The suit seeks to prevent the State Board of Education from continued violations of the Open Door Law and declaratory relief.

The letter - sent last week - requests Long and Bosma appoint Indiana's Legislative Services Agency to perform calculations to determine the 2012-13 A-F grades for Indiana schools. The suit alleges that no public notice was issued for a meeting that allowed for this action and that Superintendent Ritz was not made aware of this action until after it was taken, despite her role as Chair of the State Board of Education.

"When I was sworn in to office, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Indiana," said Superintendent Ritz. "I take this oath very seriously and I was dismayed to learn that other members of the State Board have not complied with the requirements of the law. While I respect the commitment and expertise of members of the board individually, I feel they have over-stepped their bounds.

"Since my inauguration, I have worked tirelessly to communicate openly with the Board and the public. I do not take this action lightly, but my obligations as elected state Superintendent require it. I look forward to continuing to work to improve education for all Indiana students in a fair, transparent and collaborative manner."

For now, the Indiana Department of Education won't release test scores and other data needed for a legislative branch agency to calculate new A-F rankings.

The move blocks an attempt by General Assembly leaders to speed up this year's accountability grades for schools.

The Republican legislative leaders sent along the state board's request to LSA Friday, asking the agency to begin work immediately and provide the A-F calculations to the state board so it can review them and prepare to issue them "expeditiously."

But the Democrat-led Indiana Department of Education said there is no data to share with LSA until the rescore window for contested ISTEP results closes Nov. 5.

Asked whether DOE would provide the data after that to LSA, spokesman Daniel Altman said, "We'll address that then."

Altman said shortly after the rescores are finished, preliminary A-F rankings will be calculated and released privately to schools, which then have the right to appeal the accountability rankings.

The A-F grades could be ready by Thanksgiving.

The entire process has been slowed by major testing interruptions in the spring that initially called into question the validity of the scores, which are a primary basis for the accountability rankings.

And the situation is heightened by the ongoing battle between the Republican-dominated State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat.

Bosma and Long said Monday they don't believe the Department of Education needs to wait to give the data to LSA, noting preliminary ranks can be calculated and then tweaked later after the rescores are decided.

They fear the state will miss the state and federal requirement to have annual accountability ranking if this pushes into 2014.

"I'm taking the side of the schools and the kids and the teachers," Long said, noting teacher evaluations and raises are being held up because of the delay. "We can do some analysis before the rescore appeals are done."

Last year, then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, a Republican, did not release the A-F rankings until Halloween amid a heated election race. Neither the state board, nor Bosma and Long, intervened then.

Bennett was defeated by Ritz in the November election.

Bosma said Ritz is nowhere near a Halloween release this year. And he said this year is different because an outside nonpartisan report looking into possible discrepancies with last year's A-F grades recommended the legislature have the ability to run the grades.

Both Long and Bosma acknowledge Ritz doesn't have to hand the data over but point to positive remarks she made at the October State Board of Education meeting about working in tandem with LSA.

"The department is more than excited about doing a check. That just makes sure that what we are going to release is correct. It's been checked and double checked going forward," Ritz said about outside involvement by LSA.

It appears the issue comes down to when the data is turned over – before or after the DOE has made its own calculations.

State Board of Education member Cari Whicker said she doesn't understand the continued delays, noting an independent consultant deemed the ISTEP+ test scores valid in late July. But they weren't released to parents and schools until early September.

Given the current process, she said a special meeting might be required in December to approve the A-F grades.

"We are told things are coming. Honestly a lot of times we aren't told anything. We ask for things, request info and dates. Whether it's intentional or not, we don't get a lot of feedback," said Whicker, a middle school teacher in Huntington.

She doesn't want to take away Ritz' authority to run the calculations. Instead, she just wants the LSA to have access to the numbers so they can be prepared for the release.

"The big concern is we are statutorily obligated to give out A-F grades, so we feel this sense of responsibility," Whicker said.

nkelly@jg.net


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