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Talks on testing, waiver get testy

Ritz clashes with Pence, board members

– Back-to-back state education meetings Monday were highlighted by several clashes between Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, Republican Gov. Mike Pence and disgruntled state board members.

The Indiana Education Roundtable and State Board of Education met separately. And both were uncomfortable at times.

Many of the issues involve new standardized tests on recently adopted academic standards and an update on the state's attempt to retain its federal education waiver.

According to presentations, in the 2014-15 school year students will take a revised or modified ISTEP+ test in the spring that will be aligned to the new standards. But specifics on how many questions will be added or how it would be different than the current test were lacking.

The one-time test will count for state and federal A-F accountability rankings.

The state's contract with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill will expire Monday, but the company is handling the new test under a contract extension. It is unclear what the cost to the state is.

In the meantime, a Request for Proposal will go out in July for a completely new standardized testing program starting with the 2015-16 school year.

The Indiana Education Roundtable – a mix of education and business experts – passed some nonbinding recommendations on future testing Monday, including adding a ninth-grade accountability test so that growth can be shown clearly from third through 10th grades.

The roundtable recommended not adding statewide mandatory testing for kindergarten through second grade and keeping the IREAD-3 third-grade reading test.

One big issue was Ritz's effort to add a reading score to the standardized testing. Right now students get an English Language Arts score, but it does not break out reading proficiency.

She offered an amendment that would leave open the option of having a reading score on all accountability tests from third through 10th grades.

But Pence opposed it, saying adding additional reading questions could lengthen the time to take the test and cause scores to drop.

Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary, said it was “unforgivable” to force roundtable members to pick sides.

Ritz's amendment failed 18-9.

The State Board of Education still could consider the issue, though.

Later Monday, that meeting also got contentious. The purpose of the special meeting was for the Indiana Department of Education to give an update on the federal waiver.

The U.S Department of Education gave the state until Monday to submit how it will correct problems found during a 2013 federal monitoring visit. Those issues include monitoring of failing schools, teacher and principal evaluations, and outreach to families and communities.

Without the waiver, Indiana schools would lose flexibility in how to spend some of the $200 million a year in federal education funding they receive.

Board member Brad Oliver said the information the board received on the waiver was late and incomplete. He offered a resolution that Ritz had not been looking for more board involvement.

Ritz took a long recess before rejecting adding the resolution to the agenda.

Board rules say she and three other members have to agree.

Oliver tried to appeal, which turned into a long argument.

“I'm not going to sit here and be lectured to,” he said, noting he isn't arguing the department isn't working hard, “but I have no idea what is going to be put in the waiver.”

Ritz conceded several attachments were still being worked on and also weren't put up for public comment. But she defended her staff's work and said the waiver will be submitted Monday in proper order.

“I am totally committed to this waiver. I live and breathe this waiver,” she said. “I don't plan to submit a waiver that is outside the scope of what I am required to do.”

nkelly@jg.net

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