Are Children Learning

Two neighborhood schools cracked Indianapolis Public Schools' top 10 on ISTEP in 2015

PHOTO: Kelly Wilkinson / The Star
Principal Joyce Akridge tries to squeeze in learning at every moment, like at lunchtime, at IPS School 79.

Magnet schools continued to dominate among the top 10 in Indianapolis Public Schools when it came to passing the ISTEP test in 2015, but there were a couple of notable changes to the ranking from the prior year.

Even after nearly all schools in the state saw their passing rates fall because of a tougher exam, the same two schools topped the list for IPS: Sidener Gifted Academy and School 84, a Center for Inquiry School, were ranked No. 1 and No. 2.

The biggest movers included School 2 on New Jersey Street, also a CFI school, which moved up to third best in the district from seventh the year before. School 87, a Montessori-themed magnet school, moved up from ninth to fifth.

Two new schools appeared in the IPS top 10, breaking the magnet school stranglehold on top test scores.

School 79, a neighborhood school on the city’s Northwest side that has been celebrated for success with students learning English as a new language, ranked No. 7. And School 57, a neighborhood school on the East side of Indianapolis, ranked No. 10.

The two schools that dropped out of the top 10 were School 56, a Montessori magnet school on the North side, and Cold Springs School, an environmental magnet school on the Northwest side.

Over the next few weeks, Chalkbeat will publish short profiles of the top scoring, and lowest scoring, Marion County schools on ISTEP for three types of schools — Indianapolis Public Schools, township schools and charter schools.

Here’s a look at the top 10 schools for IPS:

Sidener Gifted Academy

A much tougher state test did not knock Merle Sidener Gifted Academy from its perch as the top scoring school in the state on ISTEP. Its passing rate barely dropped in a year when other schools saw their scores plummet. In 2015, 99.5 percent passed, down from 100 percent the prior year.

IPS's Sidener Gifted Academy is the state's highest scoring elementary school on ISTEP.
IPS’s Sidener Gifted Academy is the state’s highest scoring elementary school on ISTEP.

Sidener is an IPS-run magnet school with 381 students who have been identified as gifted. Its students are less poor than most IPS schools and less diverse. About 35 percent of students comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  To qualify, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually. The district average is 71 percent qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.

Just 7 percent of Sidener students needed special education services, and only 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available. The district averages in those areas that year were 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

About 48 percent of the school’s students are white, while 26 percent are black and 12 percent are Hispanic. The district averages are 21 percent white, 49 percent black and 25 percent Hispanic.

School 84

School 84, on East 57th Street, is the highest scoring of three Center For Inquiry schools, a network of magnet schools that aim to apply the scientific inquiry method to other areas of study. A perennial top-scoring IPS school, School 84 is also easily the wealthiest and least diverse school in IPS.

School 84 is a Center for Inquiry magnet school on the North side.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 84 is a Center for Inquiry magnet school on the North side.

Only 5 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The enrollment is 83 percent white, 5 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic.

That low poverty profile is more comparable to wealthy suburban schools than most IPS schools, which are generally among this highest poverty schools in Indiana.

On the new ISTEP, far fewer School 84 students passed ISTEP: About 80 percent. That’s down 16 percentage points from 2014, which is slightly better than the statewide drop of 19 percentage points that accompanied the new exam.

Only 13 percent are in special education and 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 2

School 2, located downtown on North New Jersey Street, is also a Center for Inquiry magnet school. The school was recently identified as one of six the district plans to reward with additional autonomy.

IPS School 2 is one of three Centers for Inquiry magnet schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
IPS School 2 is one of three Centers for Inquiry magnet schools.

About 67 percent of the 375 students in grades K to 8 who took ISTEP passed. That’s down 13 percentage points from 2014, which is a smaller drop than the overall state average. That helped the school jump up to third best in IPS for percent passed, up from seventh best in 2014.

About 69 percent of students at School 2 are white, 11 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic. About 24 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About  5 percent are English language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 74

The district’s Spanish language immersion magnet school remained one of its best scoring schools on ISTEP in 2015. Its success was recently cited when the district decided to approve a second Spanish immersion school.

School 74 is a Spanish immersion magnet school.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 74 is a Spanish immersion magnet school.

Also known as Theodore Potter Elementary School, School 74 serves 276 students in grades K to 6 on the city’s East side and has among the largest share of Hispanic students of any IPS school at 68 percent. About 20 percent of students are black and 8 percent are white.

In 2015, about 56 percent of the school’s students passed ISTEP, above the state average but down 33 percentage points from the prior year, a bigger drop than most schools.

The school’s poverty rate is typical of IPS schools: about 72 percent of students come from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 20 percent of the school’s students were in special education and 44 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 87

Since School 87 was converted into the district’s third Montessori school four years ago, it has become a consistent high performer on ISTEP.

School 87 is a a Montessori magnet school serving the West side of Indianapolis.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 87 is a a Montessori magnet school serving the West side of Indianapolis.

In 2015, the school saw 52 percent of its students pass the exam. Its passing rate, and the 19 percentage point drop it saw from 2014, were both right on the state averages. It’s 2015 scores were good enough to rank the school fifth best in IPS, up from ninth in 2014.

Also called George Washington Carver Elementary School, it serves grades K to 8 and is located Northwest of downtown.

School 87 is a magnet school, but it draws heavily from the surrounding neighborhood and looks more like a typical IPS neighborhood sthan most magnet schools. About 65 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is about 47 percent Hispanic, 33 percent black and 15 percent white.

About 28 percent of its students were English language learners, and 13 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 91

Another Montessori magnet school, this one located on the North side, School 91 is also known as Rousseau McClellan Elementary School.

School 91 is a Montessori school on the North side.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 91 is a Montessori school on the North side.

In 2015, about 52 percent of the students who took the exam from among roughly 475 students enrolled in grades K to 8 passed the test. That was down about 31 percentage points from the prior year, and the school’s ranking slipped to sixth in the district from fourth the prior year.

The school is a consistent high scorer, but School 91 has considerably fewer students from high poverty families and is less diverse than most in IPS.

About 44 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 43 percent white, 34 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic.

About 23 percent of students were in special education and 10 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 90

School 90 continued its remarkable run as a high-scoring IPS school on ISTEP in 2015. Although just 42 percent of its students passed the exam — below the state average and down 40 percentage points from the prior year — it still ranked seventh best in the district.

Kindergarteners use computers at IPS School 90.
PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Kindergarteners use computers at IPS School 90.

School 90, also known as Ernie Pyle Elementary School, has a magnet theme: Paideia, a curriculum inspired by the Socratic method and ancient Greek ideas on education. But most of its students continue to come from the nearby neighborhood .

In recent years, School 90 was praised by the Indiana Department of Education for its long run of improved scores.

About 390 students are enrolled in what is a high poverty and very diverse school. About 79 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. It is 43 percent black, 42 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white.

About 27 percent were English language learners, 18 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 79

The success story of School 79, one of the district’s best known, continued in 2015.

Immigrant students just arrived in the U.S. work on learning English words.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Immigrant students just arrived in the U.S. work on learning English words.

About 48 percent of students passed ISTEP, down 19 points from the prior year but good enough to vault School 79 into the district’s top 10.

Also known as Carl Wilde Elementary School, the Northwest side neighborhood school was struggling with low scores in 2006 when its scores began rising. At the same time, changes in the neighborhood sent the number of English languages learners in the school soaring to more than half of its 677 students.

Under Principal Joyce Akridge, the school became a district model for serving immigrant students.

About 88 percent of students at the school come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse: 56 percent Hispanic, 32 percent black and 6 percent white.

About 10 percent were in special education and 56 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 60

Perhaps no IPS school has seen a more dramatic overhaul of its student body over the past five years than School 60, also called William Bell Elementary School.

A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
A preschooler in the Reggio program at IPS School 60.

As the school has become dramatically less poor and seen other demographic changes under a partnership with Butler University, its test scores have climbed.

About 46 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2015, down about 23 percentage points but enough to earn the school a top 10 ranking in IPS.

Of the 432 students at the school, 60 percent are white, 25 percent are black and 7 percent are Hispanic. Every year it has moved further away from its 2012 percentages, which were 10 percent white, 82 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic.

It’s a similar story when it comes to the percentage of students who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, which fell to 28 percent in 2015. In 2012, 85 percent qualified for free or reduced price lunch.

About 11 percent of students were in special education and 3 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

School 57

Also known as George W. Julian Elementary School, School 57 broke into the district’s top 10 when it comes to passing ISTEP in 2015 with 46 percent of students passing the test.

School 57 cracked the IPS top 10 this year for percent passing ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 57 cracked the IPS top 10 this year for percent passing ISTEP.

That’s down 21 percentage points from the prior year.

School 57 is a neighborhood school in Irvington on the city’s East side. The school’s grade has been on an upswing, rising from a B in 2013 and a string of C grades before that.

A small school with just 217 students, School 57 is typical of most IPS neighborhood schools with 74 percent of students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 42 percent Hispanic, 33 percent white and 20 percent black.

About 13 percent of students were in special education and 38 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

To Do

Tennessee’s new ed chief says troubleshooting testing is first priority

PHOTO: (Caiaimage/Robert Daly)

Penny Schwinn knows that ensuring a smooth testing experience for Tennessee students this spring will be her first order of business as the state’s new education chief.

Even before Gov.-elect Bill Lee announced her hiring on Thursday, she was poring over a recent report by the state’s chief investigator about what went wrong with TNReady testing last spring and figuring out her strategy for a different outcome.

“My first days will be spent talking with educators and superintendents in the field to really understand the scenario here in Tennessee,” said Schwinn, who’s been chief deputy commissioner of academics in Texas since 2016.

“I’ll approach this problem with a healthy mixture of listening and learning,” she added.

Schwinn’s experience with state assessment programs in Texas and in Delaware — where she was assistant secretary of education — is one of the strengths cited by Lee in selecting her for one of his most critical cabinet posts.

The Republican governor-elect has said that getting TNReady right is a must after three straight years of missteps in administration and scoring in Tennessee’s transition to online testing. Last year, technical disruptions interrupted so many testing days that state lawmakers passed emergency legislation ordering that poor scores couldn’t be used to penalize students, teachers, schools, or districts.

Schwinn, 36, recalls dealing with testing headaches during her first days on the job in Texas.

“We had testing disruptions. We had test booklets mailed to the wrong schools. We had answer documents in testing booklets. We had online administration failures,” she told Chalkbeat. “From that, we brought together teachers, superintendents, and experts to figure out solutions, and we had a near-perfect administration of our assessment the next year.”

What she learned in the process: the importance of tight vendor management, including setting clear expectations of what’s expected.

She plans to use the same approach in Tennessee, working closely with people in her new department and Questar Assessment, the state’s current vendor.

“Our job is to think about how to get online testing as close to perfect as possible for our students and educators, and that is going to be a major focus,” she said.

The test itself has gotten good reviews in Tennessee; it’s the online miscues that have many teachers and parents questioning the switch from paper-and-pencil exams. Schwinn sees no choice but to forge ahead online and is quick to list the benefits.

“If you think about how children learn and access information today, many are getting that information from hand-held devices and computers,” she said, “so reflecting that natural experience in our classrooms is incredibly important.”

Schwinn said computerized testing also holds promise for accommodating students with disabilities and provides for a more engaging experience for all students.

“When you look at the multiple-choice tests that we took in school and compare that to an online platform where students can watch videos, perform science experiments, do drag-and-drop and other features, students are just more engaged in the content,” she said.

“It’s a more authentic experience,” she added, “and therefore a better measure of learning.”

Schwinn plans to examine Tennessee’s overall state testing program to look for ways to reduce the number of minutes dedicated to assessment and also to elevate transparency.

She also will oversee the transition when one or more companies take over the state’s testing program beginning next school year. Former Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered a new request for proposals from vendors to provide paper testing for younger students and online testing for older ones. State officials have said they hope to award the contract by spring.

In Texas, a 2018 state audit criticized Schwinn’s handling of two major education contracts, including a no-bid special education contract that lost the state more than $2 million.

In Tennessee, an evaluation committee that includes programmatic, assessment, and technology experts will help to decide the new testing contract, and state lawmakers on the legislature’s Government Operations Committee plan to provide another layer of oversight.

Spring testing in Tennessee is scheduled to begin on April 15. You can learn more about TNReady on the state education department’s website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about problems with the handling of two education contracts in Texas. 

Class of 2018

Some Colorado schools see big gains in grad rates. Find yours in our searchable database.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Aurora Public Schools
Aurora West College Preparatory Academy graduates of 2018. The school had a 100 percent graduation rate.

Two metro-area school districts, Westminster and Aurora, recently in the state’s crosshairs for their low-performance, posted significant increases in their graduation rates, according to 2018 numbers released Wednesday.

Westminster, a district that got off the state’s watchlist just last year, had 67.9 percent of its students graduate on time, within four years of starting high school. That was a jump of 10 percentage points from its 57.8 percent graduation rate in 2017.

District officials credit their unique model of competency-based education, which does away with grade levels and requires students prove they mastered content before moving up a level. In previous years, district officials pointed to rising graduation rates that Colorado also tracks for students who take five, six or seven years, but officials say it was bound to impact their 4-year rates as well.

“We saw an upward tick across the board this past year,” said Westminster Superintendent Pam Swanson, referring to state test results and other data also showing achievement increasing. “I think this is one more indicator.”

Swanson said the high school has also focused recently on increasing attendance, now at almost 90 percent, and increasing students’ responsibility for their own learning.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

In Aurora schools, 76.5 percent of students graduated on time in 2018 — a jump of almost 9 percentage points from the 67.6 percent rate of the class of 2017.

“We’re excited these rates demonstrate momentum in our work,” Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn said.

He attributed the increased graduation rates to “better practice, better pedagogy, and better policy.”

One policy that made a difference for the district is a change in law that now allows districts to count students as graduates the year they complete their high school requirements, even if they are enrolled in one of Colorado’s programs to take college courses while doing a fifth year of high school.

According to a state report two years ago, Aurora had 65 students enrolled in this specific concurrent enrollment program who previously wouldn’t have been counted in four-year graduation rates. Only the Denver district has a larger number of such students. Aurora officials said 147 students are enrolled this year in the program.

Those students are successful, Munn said, and shouldn’t be counted against the district’s on-time graduation rates.

Aurora’s previously rising graduation rates helped it dodge corrective state action. But its improvement this year included a first: One high school, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, had 100 percent of its seniors graduate in 2018.

The school enrolls students in grades six through 12 in northwest Aurora, the most diverse part of the district. Of the more than 1,000 students, 89 percent qualify for subsidized lunch, a measure of poverty.

“This incredible accomplishment demonstrates the strong student-focused culture we have created at Aurora West,” said Principal Taya Tselolikhina in a written statement. “When you establish high expectations and follow up with high levels of support, every student is able to shape a successful future.”

Statewide, the four-year graduation rate once again inched higher, and gaps between the graduation rate of white students and students of color again decreased. But this time, the gaps narrowed even as all student groups increased their graduation rates.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

The rising trend wasn’t universal. In some metro area school districts, graduation rates fell in 2018. That includes Adams 14, the district that is now facing outside management after years of low performance.

The tiny school district of Sheridan, just southwest of Denver, saw a significant drop in graduation rates. In 2018, 64.7 percent of students graduated within four years, down from 72.7 percent of the class of 2017.

Look up four-year graduation rates for your individual school or district in our databases below.

Districts here: