There were some encouraging signs for Indianapolis Public Schools’ most troubled schools in the latest state ISTEP scores, but district officials said the original group of 11 “priority” schools singled out for extra attention still have a long way to go.

In a district with many poor performing schools — about two-thirds of its 65 schools earned a D or F from the state last year — Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, who joined IPS last fall, in February essentially put the priority schools on red alert. All of the priority schools were rated an F by the state the past two years and were plagued with low growth, no growth or even falling test scores. Each has also been identified by the Indiana Department of Education as in need of additional support.

In response, Ferebee asked central office administrators to monitor those schools closely, institute frequent testing to gauge if students were making progress and replaced most of the principals. For new principals at priority schools, he also offered extra pay.

Overall, the schools made progress.

More than half of them made gains on ISTEP over last year. Leading the way was School 51 with a big jump of 12.1 points to 44.1 percent passing.
Several others made strong gains, especially three that made gains of five points or more: School 58 (up 5.1 points), School 44 (up 5.6 points), School 93 (up 5.8 points). School 93 this year is adopting the Project Restore school model in response to a request from parents and teachers.

Even with all those gains, none of the priority schools exceeded 50 percent passing. The two lowest-scoring schools both saw their passing rates drop even further: John Marshall High School’s middle school passing rate was down 4.1 points to just 14 percent, the lowest rate in the district. The second worst scoring school, School 103, was down even further after its passing rate fell 7.4 points to 15.3 percent.

But as some priority schools have moved up, new schools have dropped near the bottom when compared to their IPS peers.

Five schools that saw their scores fall this year now have passing rates under 40 percent: School 55 (down 3.2 points to 39.6 percent), School 15 (down 0.6 points to 39.6 percent), School 63 (down 5.6 points to 30.5 percent), School 107 (down 16.4 points to 27.3 percent) and the middle school students at George Washington High School (down 6.1 points to 18.2 percent passing).

The district’s deputy superintendent for academics, Wanda Legrand, said IPS will make changes to oversight at schools where test scores dropped and passing rates have fallen below those of the priority schools. But there is no plan to add or subtract schools from the priority school list.

“We are committed to our 11 priority schools and their continued success over the coming years,” she said.

Those schools need more than one year of extra effort to be sure they keep improving, she said. But other schools with troubling scores could also receive extra attention, too, such as additional teacher training or added central office services.

Here’s how IPS schools that took ISTEP last year ranked, top to bottom, for percent passing, with * indicating IPS priority schools: