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Testing-contract confusion plagues ed board

Power struggles also clog meetings


– Confusion over a new testing contract and continued political power struggles will highlight today's State Board of Education meeting.

The discord was so high Tuesday ahead of the meeting that Glenda Ritz, the state superintendent of public instruction, released a statement blasting a proposed resolution giving the board more control over a waiver of federal education requirements.

“This resolution unfairly questions the honesty and capacity of my administration to implement the waiver and may result in ramifications from Washington,” the Democrat 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 has a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents, though they are all appointed by Gov. Mike Pence and Republicans hold the majority.

Also Tuesday afternoon, the Center for Education and Career Innovation – the education agency created by Pence – alerted board members there might be a problem with a proposed contract for standardized testing services.

That's because it calls for not one but two standardized tests to be given to Hoosier students in spring 2015. The first is the ISTEP+; the second is the College and Career Ready Transition Assessment reflecting new state standards.

But that is not what Ritz 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 only a revised or modified ISTEP+ test in the spring that will be aligned to the new standards.

The one-time test would be used for accountability rankings, as required by the U.S. Department of Education.

The state's contract with testing vendor CTB/McGraw Hill expired June 30, and Ritz said an extension was being crafted to run through October 2015. In the meantime, testing companies would be asked to propose a new standardized test for the 2015-16 school year.

Nevertheless, a proposed extension to CTB/McGraw Hill's contract calling for two tests was signed by an Indiana Department of Education official June 30. But it must go through the Indiana Office of Management and Budget and the attorney general's office before it is final.

The contract also does not reflect any credit the state is owed by CTB after an ISTEP+ online testing debacle last year.

“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,” read an email to board members from the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

Danielle Shockey, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said the contract extension process started months ago and reflected information available at the time. Since then, the federal government has made clear that one college-prep test is required.

She said staffers are preparing an amendment to the contract extension. And she also said a phone call from the Center for Education and Career Innovation to the Department of Education staff would have cleared up its concerns – but nothing was discussed before the agency's email went out to the school board.

On top of those major issues, the board continues to battle over how the meetings are run.

The board will consider a resolution today that could further limit the authority of Ritz as chairwoman of the panel. The move comes after a squabble last month over the last-minute addition of an item to the agenda.

Board rules require the chair and three board members to determine that an emergency or special circumstance exists in order for an item to be added for final action. Ritz didn't think it did in this case.

Several members tried to appeal her decision, but she said that wasn't an option. Lawyers disagreed on the interpretation.

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

The proposal also would shift authority for scheduling board meetings from Ritz's staff at the Indiana Department of Education to the board's staff at the Center for Education and Career Innovation.

Just months ago, a national expert was brought in partly to mediate conflicts among the board and to establish meeting rules and procedures.

The Indiana State Teachers Association has used social media this week to encourage Hoosiers to contact board members, Pence and the legislature to oppose the changes.

“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,” read a message posted July 4 on the teachers union blog.