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Fireworks expected about testing at Indiana board of education meeting

INDIANAPOLIS – Confusion about a new testing contract and continued power battles will highlight Wednesday’s State Board of Education meeting.

Late Tuesday, the Center for Education and Career Innovation – the education agency created administratively by Republican Gov. Mike Pence – alerted board members there might be a problem with a contract extension with CTB/McGraw-Hill.

That’s because it calls for not one – but two – standardized tests to be given to Hoosier students in the spring of 2015.

The first is the ISTEP+ test “as-is” and the second is the College and Career Ready Transition Assessment reflecting new state standards.

But that is not what Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, said would occur just a few weeks ago at a state board meeting.

According to presentations then, in the 2014-15 school year students would take a revised or modified ISTEP+ test in the spring that would be aligned to the new standards.

The one-time test would count for state and federal A-F accountability rankings, as required by the U.S. Department of Education.

The state's contract with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill expired June 30, but Ritz said an extension was being crafted to run through October 2015.

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

The proposed contract extension was signed by an Indiana Department of Education official June 30. But it must go through the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, as well as the Attorney General’s Office, before it is final.

The contract also does not reflect any credits the state has with CTB after a 2013 ISTEP online testing debacle.

“It is of concern that IDOE submitted this contract on the last possible day prior to contract expiration…reflecting a scope of work for two separate tests. One of these tests – the “as-is” ISTEP+ - is unusable for purposes of school accountability or teacher evaluations,” the CECI email to board members said.

DOE staffers were looking into the issue, but generally said the contract could be amended.

A statement Ritz issued late Tuesday also blasted another resolution seeking for the State Board of Education to have more control about a federal waiver.

“This resolution unfairly questions the honesty and capacity of my administration to implement the waiver and may result in ramifications from Washington,” she said. “The Board has made it clear that they will not listen to me or the Department. I have asked that the Governor remove this resolution from consideration tomorrow before our schools and students suffer the consequences.”

The board will also consider a resolution Wednesday that could further limit the authority of Ritz as chairwoman of the panel.

The move comes after a squabble last month about adding an item to the agenda at the last minute.

Board rules require the chair and three board members to determine that an emergency or special circumstance exists for an item to be added for final action. Ritz didn’t agree.

Several members tried to appeal the ruling, but she said that wasn’t an option because she was abiding by the rule as written. Lawyers disagreed about the interpretation.

A resolution on the agenda would create a subcommittee to consider rule changes, including specifying that members can appeal calling a special meeting or adding agenda items.

The proposal also would shift authority for scheduling board meetings from Ritz’ staff at the Indiana Department of Education to the board’s staff at CECI.

The move comes just months after a national expert was brought in partly to mediate conflicts among the board, and to establish meeting rules and procedures for the board.

But now some members want to change those procedures again. The board has a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents, though they are all appointed by Pence and Republicans hold the majority.

The Indiana State Teachers Association has used social media this week to encourage Hoosiers to contact members of the board as well as Pence and the legislature to fight back against the changes.

“Please contact the members of the State Board of Education and urge them to work WITH Superintendent Ritz instead of continuing on this path of disrespect for her, the office she holds and the 1.3 million voters who elected her,” an ISTA blog item posted July 4 said.