After struggling for three years to earn a passing grade from the state of Indiana — and under threat of possible state takoever — Indianapolis Public School 58 finally did it this year, leaping to a C from an F.

The swing was driven by a gain in the percentage of students passing ISTEP, up to 49 percent from 44 percent last year, but the better grade wasn’t enough to get off Superintendent Lewis Ferebee’s watch list.

In fact, Ferebee said last year’s list of 11 priority schools, made up of schools that had consecutive F grades and flat test score growth, won’t change at all. The schools that improved, like School 58, will continue as “priority schools.” But Ferebee also doesn’t want to add an new priority schools to his list, even those that earned their second consecutive F grade.

There are six new schools that would meet last year’s criteria: School 55, School 63, School 107 and the middle school students from Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple and George Washington high schools, who are treated as if they attended separate schools by the state.

That’s important because the district’s priority school designation brings with it extra supports from the central office, more teacher professional development and a principal hiring incentive program.

In order to be removed from the IPS priority schools list, a school must earn a grade of C or better for two consecutive years, according to deputy Superintendent Wanda Legrand. But adding more priority schools is costly, and the district wants to remain focused on improving the original group.

“When we arrived during the 2013-14 school year, there were 22 schools rated F,” Legrand said. “Due to limited resources, the bottom 11 were chosen as IPS priority schools. Those 11 schools rated F either had decreased in A-F points from the 2012-13 school year or hadn’t achieved any points during the 2012-13 school year.”

And Ferebee said A-F grades and test scores aren’t the only factors that should be used to measure a school’s quality.

“The A-F accountability designations are very volatile,” Ferebee said. “They go up and down, they swing. It’s just one factor of progress. We wanted to make sure we did a deeper dive into growth.”

But the district isn’t neglecting IPS’s other poorly performing schools, he said. Ferebee said wants to be even more aggressive with schools that are showing signs of struggle, even if they aren’t officially designated “priority schools.”

“We’ve included some schools into that work without officially adding them to the list based on needs that have come up,” Ferebee said. “We’re not going to wait until a school gets on a certain list to react and respond. We’ll use that to inform our efforts for school improvement.”

In fact, other IPS schools made the state’s separate “priority” list for test score drops or consistently low performance. The district announced the state’s updated list at its December school board meeting. Though there is some overlap, the 15 schools flagged by the state are not the same as the district’s own list.

School 48, for example, made the state’s list for its alarming trend of poor ISTEP performance. After three straight years of earning F’s, the school jumped to a D last year. This year, it was back down to an F. But it is not considered an IPS priority school.

Ferebee thinks School 48, and other schools like it, are making progress, even if the state views them as being in serious danger of failing. The district is still watching those schools carefully, even if they are not on the list for the greatest urgency.

“We want to make sure we stay committed with the schools we chose,” Ferebee said. “We know it takes at least two to three years to sustain and build capacity.”

The IPS schools recently named by the state as priority schools are:

  • Elementary schools: Key Learning Community, School 42, School 44, School 48, School 55, School 63, School 69, School 93, School 103, School 107
  • Middle schools: Broad Ripple, Crispus Attucks, George Washington, Northwest and John Marshall