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Four things to watch for at Wednesday's state board meeting

Last week’s state board meeting was long and tense.
Last week’s state board meeting was long and tense.

Can any discussion of the controversial A to F school grading rules in Indiana that involves the feuding state Superintendent Glenda Ritz, State Board of Education and Gov. Mike Pence’s Center for Education and Career Innovation get anything accomplished?

The tension is not abating. Just today, Ritz complained in an op-ed that Pence was trying to take over her duties. (Pence has already promised a response letter.)

On Wednesday, all sides will have to come together if the state board is going to meet its Friday deadline under state law to deliver a new school grading formula for use going forward. After two straight contentious meetings, one lawsuit and one pseudo-legal complaint, the state board will meet for the second time in a week.

Here’s four things to watch for:

1. Will the ongoing battle over the meeting agenda resume?

Ritz and the state board have been sparring over who controls the agenda.

Since the creation of CECI, the state board now has its own staff, separate from the Indiana Department of Education staff Ritz oversees. This was on display in sharp relief last week when separate lawyers for each entity gave the board conflicting advice on how to follow state law on issuing this year’s grades.

Board members have chafed that Ritz is not following the rules the entire board agreed to in May. The rules allow board members to place items on the agenda so long as they give enough lead time. Ritz argues that the birth of CECI changed the game. She has incensed some board members by ignoring their motions to place new items on the agenda or move items around.

Last week, Ritz said she is in talks with Pence’s representatives about establishing new rules to govern state board meetings. Wednesday’s meeting is mostly about A to F, but it has a full agenda that includes other items. Frustrated board members could again raise the issue and reopen this debate.

2. Does everyone agree on how A to F connects to testing?

After the final meeting of the A to F accountability panel, which was chaired by Ritz and appointed by Ritz, Pence and legislative leaders, Ritz was optimistic about the panel’s recommendations.

Ritz told reporters she felt the recommendations were compatible with her vision for changing testing in Indiana so it is less based on pass-fail tests and more focused on establishing student skill levels based on scales (such as reading lexile levels or grade-level equivalents). The state board has been cool to the idea of rethinking the state’s approach to testing.

Is a new vision for testing really what the Republican-appointed members of the panel voted yes for in approving the recommendation 16-1? Will the state board members view the new scheme as a departure from the current system — or simply an adjustment?

3. Will the final state board recommendations propose more tests?

The panel’s recommendations allowed for Indiana to add state tests to grades 1, 2, 9 and 11, grades that currently are not tested in math and reading. But during a brief discussion last week, Ritz said that proposal was flexible and depended on whether Indiana signed to use new tests being developed by a consortium of states that is set up that way.

4. Will there even be an agreed-upon recommendation?

The possibility exists that the state board could fail to agree on recommendations and miss Friday’s deadline established by the law that resulted from House Bill 1427 that passed earlier this year. If that happens, it’s unclear what the next step for A to F will be and could throw the contentious relationships into more turmoil.

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