A-F grading system to be reviewed as schools wait on ISTEP scores

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz made her first public comments Wednesday about the scoring scandal involving the state’s A-F school evaluation system.

“Upon our preliminary examination, the department has verified that there was manipulation of calculation categories,” Ritz told the State Board of Education. “And the department has also determined that there are broader issues that must be examined.”

The findings follow months of rumblings about the system, which blew up into a full-scale scandal surrounding former Superintendent Dr. Tony Bennett. Bennett later resigned from his new position in Florida, amidst allegations that he tampered with the categorization of a school which was founded by a Republican donor. Changing the category of a school can, in effect, change the school’s grade.

Ritz would not talk specifics about the damage, but did give more details on the “manipulation” which took place.

“Yes, there were schools that were in configuration and calculations were done, and then they were changed and put in another category configuration and then the actual calculations were run,” she said.

The general consensus at the Education Board’s meeting was that the system needs a rewrite.
But whether that means fixing the current system, or replacing it with something new, remains unclear.

Ritz said the Education Department is conducting a full examination of the A-F system, which she hopes to complete by Sept. 2.

The findings could mean that statewide evaluations from 2011 to 2012 are invalid. If so, the system would need to be fixed before it’s applied to 2012 to 2013 grading.

State lawmakers already directed the Education Department to rewrite the evaluation system earlier this year. Top lawmakers have also ordered an outside evaluation of the system, in the wake of the Tony Bennett scandal.

Ritz said she planned to meet with Senate Pro Tem David Long and House Speaker Brian Bosma before touching base with the rest of the State Board of Education.

Meantime, schools and teachers around the state are still waiting for ISTEP scores, which have been delayed because of technical glitches at CTB/MCGraw-Hill.

The president of CTB/McGraw-Hill, Ellen Haley, told the board that they have identified what went wrong and they’ve been able to replicate the problem. That means they can study it and fix it.
Haley also issued a public apology during the board meeting.

“You just have to know how horrible we all felt about this,” she Haley. “We genuinely know the impact that we caused and we are sincere in planning to fix it.”

A study of the test results showed the server problems, which interfered with thousands of students taking the test, did not impact scores. But confirming that has delayed their release.

The delay is cause for concern for teachers and administrators who are trying to place students in the correct classes, which have already begun in many districts.

Ritz said the ISTEP scores should be released to schools at the end of August.

CTB/McGraw-Hill still has a $95 million contract with the state of Indiana. Ritz has said her office was in negotiations to recoup about $1 million for the damage and to pay for an independent study into the testing problems.