Are Children Learning

Indiana sees a small gain in ISTEP scores

PHOTO: Jason Seliskar via Flicker

Hoosier kids in grades 3 to 8 collectively made the smallest gain on ISTEP in five years in 2013-14, gaining just one percentage point over the prior year.

Statewide, 74.7 percent of test-takers passed both the English and math portions of ISTEP, according to data released today by the Indiana Department of Education. Find your school’s scores here.

In a statement, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz focused on the good news of another gain. Indiana students haven’t lost ground on ISTEP since 2009.

“This year, we saw yet another increase in student performance indicated through ISTEP,” she said. “These increased scores are just one sign of the great learning that is happening in Indiana Schools.”

The annual release of scores for nearly 500,000 students in the past was released in June but last year was delayed to September after problems with online exams required a review of the results. This year, there were no major problems with ISTEP online. Ritz said in a radio interview last month that a decision by Fort Wayne schools to administer the exam entirely on paper this year slowed scoring and delayed the release of results.

ISTEP is the backbone of Indiana’s school accountability system, playing central roles in A to F grades assigned to schools, expected to be out later this fall, and evaluation scores for teachers. Scores have not yet been released for high school end-of-course exams in Algebra and English.

Statewide, preliminary reading scores made a solid 1.2 percentage point gain over last year to reach 80.7 percent passing. In math, students gained a half point to 83.5 percent passing.

Carmel (93 percent), Zionsville (92.8 percent) and West Lafayette (92.1 percent) were the top three districts for percent of students passing ISTEP for the second straight year. Brownsburg (sixth best with 90.5 percent passing) was also in the top 10. All of those districts are among the state’s wealthiest communities.

On the other end of the spectrum was Indianapolis Public Schools, serving one of the poorest communities in Indiana, again ranked fourth from the bottom out of 290 school districts, tied with Medora at 51.6 percent passing. While last year the district could point to IPS as having one of the strongest gains in passing rate in the state, the news was not as good this year — a modest 0.5 percent gain.

All but 10 of the 58 IPS schools that took the test were ranked in the state’s bottom 25 percent for passing rate. Eight IPS schools were in the bottom 50 out of more than 1,800 schools that took ISTEP statewide.

But the news was not all bad for the district. Sidener Gifted Academy, an IPS magnet school for students that are identified as gifted, again was the top-rated school in the state, this time with 100 percent of its students passing ISTEP. This year two other schools joined Sidener at the top — Flaget Elementary School in Vincennes and St. Wendel School in Posey County.

Elsewhere in Marion County, Franklin Township again has the highest passing rate with 82.8 percent passing, up about one point from last year.

Wayne Township had by far the biggest ISTEP gain in the county: up 5.8 points to 64.4 percent passing. Two Wayne Township schools were ranked among the top 30 in the state for the biggest gains over last year: McClelland Elementary School (up 19 points) and North Wayne Elementary School (up 15 points).

Meanwhile, Warren Township (down 1.1 points) and Lawrence Township (down 0.4 points), were the only Marion County districts that saw their passing rates drop.

Much awaited results for four schools taken over by the state in 2012 and handed off to be run independently by charter school organizations showed some solid gains, but all four remained among the lowest-scoring schools in the state.

Seventh and eighth graders at Arlington High School, formerly of IPS, had an 11-point gain to 35.5 percent passing. Howe High School, also from IPS, gained eight points to 37.7 percent passing for its middle school students. That was the best of the group but still ranked in the bottom 1 percent of all Indiana schools.

Also in state takeover from IPS is Donnan Middle School, where scores were mostly flat at 24.9 percent passing, up 0.5 percent. Roosevelt High School, a Gary school in state takeover, gained 4.6 points to 20.3 percent passing.

Roosevelt is run by Tennessee-based Edison Learning and Arlington by Tindley Accelerated Schools of Indianapolis. Howe and Donnan are managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA. Manual High School, formerly of IPS and also run by CSUSA, only serves grades 9 to 12, so its students don’t take ISTEP. Arlington, Howe and Roosevelt serve grades 7 to 12.

This is the second year of test results for the takeover schools. Gains exceeded last year’s, which were considerably smaller at all four schools.

Arlington appears headed for an exit from state takeover after its operator, Tindley Accelerated Schools, told the Indiana State Board of Education it wanted to end its contract early because managing the school had become too costly. A committee that includes officials from IPS, Tindley, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and the state forged a deal to keep Arlington operating under Tindley this year and is working on a transition plan for next year.

Tindley’s move raised questions about whether state takeover was working. Today’s scores were mixed as evidence for the program’s effectivenss. While the gains at some schools could be seen bolstering the argument that takeovers can make a difference, the persistently low passing rates have been cited as demonstrating the idea is ineffective.

 

 

measuring up

After criticism, Denver will change the way it rates elementary schools

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Eva Severance, a first-grader, concentrates on a reading lesson at Lincoln Elementary in Denver.

Facing criticism that its school ratings overstated young students’ reading abilities, the Denver school district announced it will change the way elementary schools are rated next year.

The district will increase the number of students in kindergarten, first, second, and third grade who must score at grade-level on early literacy tests for a school to earn points on the district’s rating scale, and decrease how many points those scores will be worth, officials said.

The changes will lessen the impact of early literacy scores on a school’s overall rating, while also raising the bar on how many students must ace the tests for a school to be considered good. Denver rates schools on a color-coded scale from blue (the highest) to red (the lowest).

“We want to see more students making more progress,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said.

Local civil rights groups, elected officials, educators, and education advocates criticized Denver Public Schools this year for misleading students and families with what they characterized as inflated school ratings based partly on overstated early literacy gains.

“At a time when this country is at war on truth, we have an obligation to Denver families to give them a true picture of their schools’ performance,” state Sen. Angela Williams, a Denver Democrat, told Boasberg and the school board at a meeting in December.

The groups had asked the district to revise this year’s ratings, which were issued in October. Boasberg refused, saying, “If you’re going to change the rules of the game, it’s certainly advisable to change them before the game starts.” That’s what the district is doing for next year.

The state requires students in kindergarten through third grade to take the early literacy tests as a way to identify for extra help students who are struggling the most to learn to read. Research shows third graders who don’t read proficiently are four times as likely to fail out of high school. In Denver, most schools administer an early literacy test called iStation.

The state also requires students in third through ninth grade to take a literacy test called PARCC, which is more rigorous. Third-graders are the only students who take both tests.

The issue is that many third-graders who scored well on iStation did not score well on PARCC. At Castro Elementary in southwest Denver, for example, 73 percent of third-graders scored at grade-level or above on iStation, but just 17 percent did on PARCC.

Denver’s school ratings system, called the School Performance Framework, or SPF, has always relied heavily on state test scores. But this year, the weight given to the early literacy scores increased from 10 percent to 34 percent of the overall rating because the district added points for how well certain groups, such as students from low-income families, did on the tests.

That added weight, plus the discrepancy between how third-graders scored on PARCC and how they scored on iStation, raised concerns about the validity of the ratings.

At a school board work session earlier this week, Boasberg called those concerns “understandable.” He laid out the district’s two-pronged approach to addressing them, noting that the changes planned for next year are a stop-gap measure until the district can make a more significant change in 2019 that will hopefully minimize the discrepancy between the tests.

Next year, the district will increase the percentage of students who must score at grade-level on the early literacy tests. Currently, fewer than half of an elementary school’s students must score that way for a school to earn points, said Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova. The district hasn’t yet settled on what the number will be for next year, but it will likely be more than 70 percent, she said. The more points a school earns, the higher its color rating.

The district will also reduce the impact the early literacy test scores have on the ratings by cutting in half the number of points schools can earn related to the tests, Cordova said. This makes the stakes a little lower, even as the district sets a higher bar.

The number of points will go back up in 2019 when the district makes a more significant change, officials said. The change has to do with how the tests are scored.

For the past several years, the district has used the “cut points” set by the test vendors to determine which students are reading at grade-level and which are not. But the discrepancy between the third-grade iStation and PARCC reading scores – and the public outcry it sparked – has caused officials to conclude the vendor cut points are too low.

District officials said they have asked the vendors and the state education department to raise the cut points. But even if they agree, that isn’t a simple or quick fix. In the meantime, the district has developed a set of targets it calls “aimlines” that show how high a student must score on the early literacy tests to be on track to score at grade-level on PARCC, which district officials consider the gold standard measure of what students should know.

The aimlines are essentially higher expectations. A student could be judged to be reading at grade-level according to iStation but considered off-track according to the aimlines.

In 2019, the district will use those aimlines instead of the vendor cut points for the purpose of rating schools. Part of the reason the district is waiting until 2019 is to gather another year of test score data to make sure the aimlines are truly predictive, officials said.

However, the district is encouraging schools to start looking at the aimlines this year. It is also telling families how their students are doing when measured against them. Schools sent letters home to families this past week, a step district critics previously said was a good start.

Van Schoales, CEO of the advocacy group A Plus Colorado, has been among the most persistent critics of this year’s elementary school ratings. He said he’s thrilled the district listened to community concerns and is making changes for next year, though he said it still has work to do to make the ratings easier to understand and more helpful to families.

“We know it’s complicated,” he said. “There is no perfect SPF. We just think we can get to a more perfect SPF with conversations between the district and community folks.”

The district announced other changes to the School Performance Framework next year that will affect all schools, not just elementary schools. They include:

  • Not rating schools on measures for which there is only one year of data available.

Denver’s ratings have always been based on two years of data: for instance, how many students of color met expectations on state math tests in 2016 and how many met expectations in 2017.

But if a school doesn’t have data for the most current year, it will no longer be rated on that measure. One way that could happen is if a school has 20 students of color one year but only 12 the next. Schools must have at least 16 students in a category for their scores to count.

The goal, officials said, is to be more fair and accurate. Some schools complained that judging them based on just one year of data wasn’t fully capturing their performance or progress.

  • Applying the “academic gaps indicator” to all schools without exception.

This year, the district applied a new rule that schools with big gaps between less privileged and more privileged students couldn’t earn its two highest color ratings, blue and green. Schools had to be blue or green on a new “academic gaps indicator” to be blue or green overall.

But district officials made an exception for three schools where nearly all students were from low-income families, reasoning it was difficult to measure gaps when there were so few wealthier students. However, Boasberg said that after soliciting feedback from educators, parents, and advocates, “the overwhelming sentiment was that it should apply to all schools,” in part because it was difficult to find a “natural demographic break point” for exceptions.

Correction: Feb. 20, 2018: This story has been updated to more accurately describe how the district will rate schools on measures for which there is only one year of data available.

Contract review

Here’s what a deeper probe of grade changing at Memphis schools will cost

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
The board of education for Shelby County Schools is reviewing another contract with a Memphis firm hired last year to look into allegations of grade tampering at Trezevant High School. Board members will discuss the new contract Feb. 20 and vote on it Feb. 27.

A proposed contract with the accounting firm hired to examine Memphis schools with high instances of grade changes contains new details on the scope of the investigation already underway in Shelby County Schools.

The school board is reviewing a $145,000 contract with Dixon Hughes Goodman, the Memphis firm that last year identified nine high schools as having 199 or more grade changes between July 2012 and October 2016. Seven of those are part of the deeper probe, since two others are now outside of the Memphis district’s control.

The investigation includes:

  • Interviewing teachers and administrators;
  • Comparing paper grade books to electronic ones and accompanying grade change forms;
  • Inspecting policies and procedures for how school employees track and submit grades

In December, the firm recommended “further investigation” into schools with high instances of grade changes. At that time, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson emphasized that not all changes of grades from failing to passing are malicious, but said the district needs to ensure that any changes are proper.

Based on the firm’s hourly rate, a deeper probe could take from 300 to 900 hours. The initial review lasted four months before the firm submitted its report to Shelby County Schools.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the contract Feb. 27.

You can read the full agreement below: