Struggling schools

Low state ISTEP test scores landed these 10 Indianapolis Public Schools at the bottom

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis middle school students have long struggled on state standardized exams, but a new, tougher ISTEP test in 2015 produced some abysmal results for middle schoolers in the state’s largest school district.

Of the ten IPS schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores last year, six were schools serving middle schoolers.

Their scores were so low that at some schools, the percentage of students who passed the exam were in the single digits.

Several of those middle school students attend combined high schools for grades 6-12 or 7-12. At some of them, high school students score well. But since ISTEP is administered only in grades 3-8, the middle grades are treated as a separate school for reporting purposes.

Chalkbeat last week highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam. Those schools managed to do comparatively well on the test even as the average Indiana school saw a 19 percentage point drop in the number of students who passed the exam in 2015 compared with 2014.

The ten schools at the bottom of the list for IPS showed even deeper declines than their peers across the state. Many of those are facing additional challenges including large numbers of poor students, English language learners and students with special needs.

Here’s at look at the 10 schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores in the district:

Crispus Attucks Junior High School

Just 15 percent of middle school students at Crispus Attucks High School passed ISTEP in 2015, down 31 percentage points from last year.

Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.

Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school located downtown that is a high performer. Its high school students have earned the school an A on the state school report card for four straight years based on end-of-course exams and other factors.

But on ISTEP, the 647 students in grades 6 to 8 have earned three consecutive F grades.

About 71 percent of the middle school students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the same as the districtwide average. To qualify, a family cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

The middle school students are 56 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 5 percent white. The district averages are 49 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 13 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. The district averages for that year were 18 percent in special education and 16 percent English language learners.

School 42

The passing rate for School 42 also dropped by a large amount, down 31 percentage points from 2014.

ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.
ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.

That dropped the school into the bottom 10 in IPS.

Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, this is is a neighborhood school on the city’s North side with 517 students.

Its grade fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there for four straight years.

The school has very high student poverty: about 78 percent of School 42’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most students are minorities — 82 percent are black, 10 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent white.

Nearly a quarter of the school’s students were in special education classes — 23 percent –and 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 69

Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, School 69 got an A from the state in 2010 but has earned four straight F’s since then.

Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.

Next year, the school will be managed by the charter school network that operates Enlace, a charter school housed in an IPS building. School 69 will be following the model IPS used at School 103, which last summer was handed over to Phalen Leadership Academies charter school network last fall to be independently managed.

The school, serving about 375 students, saw its passing rate fall by 29 percentage points to 13 percent in 2015.

That reversed a trend that had seen scores improving strongly for three straight years. Still, the school has been among the district’s lowest scorers even as scores were going up.

Like most IPS neighborhood schools, School 69 struggles with the challenges of serving a very high poverty student body.

About 83 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 86 percent of kids enrolled are black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

About 17 percent of students were in special education, and less than 1 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Broad Ripple Junior High School

With about 13 percent of middle school students passing ISTEP in 2015, Broad Ripple’s passing rate fell by 31 percentage points.

Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.

Like Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple has a big divide between high school and middle school test performance. That’s part of the reason IPS has a plan to shift middle school students out of Broad Ripple.

The high school has earned four straight B grades based on high school passing rates, but the middle school scores have earned the school three straight F grades.

About 72 percent of middle schools students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The middle school students are 66 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 7 percent white.

About 18 percent of students were in special education and 9 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 103

School 103, also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, is in the midst of a high profile overhaul.

The Northeast side neighborhood school, which has been among the worst in the district for test scores for years, was handed over by IPS to be managed under a contract by Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. The district is now working on following that model with outside partnerships to run low-scoring schools.

IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.
IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.

The 2015 ISTEP scores reflect the last year of IPS management for School 103. Just less than 10 percent of the school’s students passed the test, down from 15 percent in 2014. The 2016 scores will be the first since Phalen took over. The passing percentage had been falling since 2009.

School 103 faces many of the difficult challenges of most IPS schools.

About 74 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 83 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white. About 21 percent of the school’s student were in special education and 9 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

George Washington Junior High School

Fewer than one in 10 middle school students at George Washington High School passed ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.

George Washington is a West side high school that has been troubled for more than a decade. It was nearly taken over by the state for low test scores in 2012, but IPS has been allowed to continue managing the school.

Last year’s 9 percent passing rate cut last year’s passing rate with a big drop over 2014 when 18 percent of students passed the test. That earned the middle school its third consecutive F. About 255 students in grades 7 and 8 attend the school.

About 75 percent of George Washington’s middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 45 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white.

A huge 36 percent of students were in special education and 11 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 44

Just 8 percent of students at School 44 passed ISTEP in 2015, down 22 percentage points from the prior year.

Also called Riverside Elementary School, the school is located on the city’s North side. The school earned its fourth consecutive F last year.

School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.

Those results have IPS looking to make changes. Like School 69, School 44 also is being considered for outside management under contract next year.

School 44 appears poised to host Global Prep Academy, a new dual-language charter school to be run by Mariama Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who is developing the concept with support from a fellowship from The Mind Trust.

About 85 percent of School 44’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Roughly 64 percent of students are black, 25 percent Hispanic and 9 percent white.

Those in special education made up about 16 percent of students, and about 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Arlington Junior High School

Arlington High School was one of the lowest scoring schools in Indiana in 2012, which is why it was one of the first five schools to be taken over by the state that year.

Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.

It was managed externally by Tindley Accelerated Schools, a charter school network until Tindley pulled out at the end of the last school year.

IPS took control of the school last fall, so these scores reflect the last school year of Tindley’s management.

IPS recently relocated all of Arlington’s middle school students to a restricted area of the building to limit contact with high school students.

When it came to middle school, the scores were very low: 6 percent passed in 2015.

Arlington has 273 students in grades 7 and 8. About 72 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The school is 87 percent black, six percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

No data is available for the percent of middle school students who are in special education or learning English as a new language.

Northwest Junior High School

Northwest High School has long been one of the lowest-scoring schools in Indiana when it comes to state exams. Last year was no exception.

Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school students this year had among the very lowest scores in the state in 2015 as just less than 6 percent of them passed ISTEP.

That’s down 15 percentage points from the year before. The middle school students’ scores have earned Northwest four consecutive F grades.

The school has 306 students in grades 7 and 8. About 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 60 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.

About 21 percent of the school’s middle school students were in special education and 20 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, that last year for which data is available.

John Marshall Junior High School

Ranking lowest of any IPS school for percent passing ISTEP in 2015 was John Marshall High School’s middle school students.

Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the worst in IPS.
Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the lowest in IPS.

Just 3 percent of 287 students in grades 7 and 8 at the school passed the state exam.

The middle school students’ scores have earned John Marshall an F grade for four straight years.

The school faces the challenges of high poverty. About 76 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The middle school students are 69 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

About 27 percent of middle school students at the school are in special education an 9 percent are English language learners.

compensation

How will Chicago repair the harm from special-education neglect?

PHOTO: Adeshina Emmanuel / Chalkbeat
Laurel Henson, at the podium, told the Illinois State Board of Education on Nov. 16, 2018, about her 2-year struggle to get a school nurse on staff to help her son, who suffers from seizures.

Illinois may be forcing Chicago Public Schools to repair its broken special education program, but the ambitious effort still begs a critical question: What happens to hundreds of Chicago children who were harmed by the district refusing them services that would  help them learn?

Neither the state nor the school district is saying yet, even as advocates for students in special education have pressed for answers.

Those children include an unnamed third-grader trapped by a tactic the district apparently used to avoid offering services required by federal law.

The child can’t read the word cat or dog, health-legal advocate Barbara Cohen said, but his teacher didn’t believe in giving low grades. So the third grader received a B in English. Then, she told the State Board of Education on Friday, when the child’s mother sought an evaluation for special education services, school officials denied the request based on his having a good grade.

Laura Boedeker, the state’s monitor overseeing special-education reforms,  acknowledged that schools vary in understanding the laws and best practices. Her job, she said, “is to have those discussions and explain what good practices look like.”

That’s not likely to satisfy parents and advocates pushing for quicker action that would help families like the third-grader’s. On Friday, they pressed authorities like Boedeker, who previously served as the district’s in-house attorney.

But with a staff of just three, including herself, it’s not clear how fast Boedeker can move. In 4½ months on the job, she’s only visited 10 of the district’s 600-plus schools.

“Do you have enough boots on the ground, enough help to do this work at the rate you need to do it?” asked Illinois State Board of Education member Susie Morrison.

“We could have an army and not have enough boots on the ground,” said Stephanie Jones, the board’s general counsel.  “What we need more than anything is eyes and ears that tell us what is going on so we can take action. Unless we can put an ISBE employee in every school, which is unrealistic, we need parents and teachers and staff members to tell us what is going on.”

Recognizing the lag in responding to parents, the state board is weighing whether to extend the one-year deadline for filing complaints about denied or improper services.

It’s possible, Jones said, that “we can wave this until we have a system of corrective action in place.”

Neither the state nor district have answered questions like: How many students could be eligible? When exactly will the system go into effect?  And what roles should advocates and schools play?

Boedeker said that federal officials have insisted that teams who put together students’ individualized education programs be involved in the remedy, because “they’re the ones on the front lines with these students.” 

But lawyer Matt Cohen said he and other advocates want a process that involves more people than the IEP team.

A child who, for example, went without a one-on-one aide for many months or who didn’t get placed in therapeutic day school when needed “might have had a profound loss,” Cohen said.

How the district will compensate that family is the question.  

“They may need more than just a few hours of tutoring to make up for that, they may need months and months of additional services and a specialized process to help them catch up,” Cohen said.  “We’re encouraging families whose kids were hurt to bring their complaints to the state, and to seek action to get their individual child’s needs met.”

Jones said that board officials and the school district, federal government and special education advocates are discussing school guidelines for identifying students harmed, notifying their families, assessing damages and offering remedies.

About half a year has passed since a state probe found the school district violated students’ rights by routinely delaying and denying services — like aides, therapy, outside placement and busing — to students in what the district calls its Diverse Learners Program.

The state board’s Jones and Boedeker tried to placate critics by preaching patience.

“From the outside looking in it looks really slow,” Jones said, “but I think we’ve accomplished a great deal in the time we have had.”

Patience doesn’t sit well with parents desperately worried about their children.

Laurel Henson, whose son suffers from seizures, said she’s been pushing to get a nurse on staff at Smyser Elementary for two years, but has encountered “delays and excuses.” On Nov. 1 the school finally granted a meeting to discuss an IEP, she said.

“In that time, he’s had a significant increase in seizures at his school causing fatigue, aggression and bed wetting during the night,” she said. Despite her hopes for the monitor, “ nothing has improved for my son and it now feels like neither CPS nor the state are accountable for ensuring students like my son have a free and appropriate education.”

 

ethnic studies

50 years in, why the fight for Mexican-American studies in schools is still in its early stages

PHOTO: Annie Wells/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Sonia Salazar, a college student, joins over 1,000 people to commemorate the historic East LA student walkouts of 1968 earlier this year. Mexican-American Studies courses are gaining traction now in K-12 schools after years of growth in higher education, a panel concluded during a recent civil rights conference in San Antonio.

Thirteen-year-old Alejandra Del Bosque knows not everyone gets to take a class like hers.

In it, she’s learned about Mexican-American students who staged walkouts in the late 1960s and early 1970s to protest the lack of resources available to their schools. She’s also learned how her state’s school funding system has still been deemed inadequate in recent court rulings.

“There was so much to learn about my heritage that I didn’t know,” Del Bosque said. “But from what I understand, it’s a unique class that’s not everywhere. For me, as a Mexican-American, it’s exciting.”

Her experience remains relatively rare. Fifty years after televised civil rights hearings galvanized the Chicano movement, academics and activists agree that the push for Mexican-American studies still lacks basic resources. And though interest is increasing, in part thanks to President Trump, growth has been slow — especially in K-12 schools, since college-level programs have traditionally gotten more attention.

“That was a big mistake we made,” Juan Tejeda, a professor at Palo Alto College, said last week. “There should have always been a focus on developing culturally relevant curriculum from pre-K through 12.”

He spoke at an event commemorating the 1968 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Hearings on Mexican-Americans in the Southwest, where he and others took stock of the movement that emerged in the decades since to better engage Latino students. (Of the 58 million Latinos in the U.S., nearly two-thirds are of Mexican descent, and most were born in the U.S.)

That’s long been a challenge for schools, especially as most educators are white. Some research has suggested that when students see themselves reflected in their curriculum, test scores and graduation rates rise. Another study found that taking an ethnic studies course helped reduce dropout rates.

Not many students have access to those courses, though. There’s no solid national data on how many school districts have some form of Mexican-American studies in their schools. California is understood to have taken the lead, while Tejeda estimated that only about 38 of more than 1,000 Texas districts have started a program.

That’s partly due to ongoing political opposition.

Arizona’s ban on teaching Mexican-American studies back in 2010 was a wake-up call for the movement, Tejeda said. (Last year, a federal court ruled that the state’s move was “racist and unconstitutional,” but Tucson hasn’t reinstated its program yet.)

Over the last decade, Mexican-American professors built a network that evolved into a group called Somos MAS. The group began a push for a standard high school elective course in Texas.

After four years of lobbying, the Texas board of education approved the course last year. Battles have also turned toward materials: When the book to be used in schools for Mexican-American studies was released in 2016, it was described by many Chicano scholars as racist for its portrayal of Mexican-Americans as lazy and un-American. That book was later thrown out, as was another the board didn’t like in 2017. Then came a debate over the course’s name, which just ended in September.

Those fights were about more than details – they were about granting the topic legitimacy, and about making it easy for teachers to introduce the material, said Lilliana Patricia Saldaña, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“There were already some teachers here or there taking upon themselves to incorporate the studies into the schools, but it was sporadic, and accurate materials weren’t always easy to find,” Saldaña said. “Approving a course that can be aligned with state standards is ideal and would allow for the programs to be more streamlined.”

Another key challenge: in many cases, limited student interest. At the college level, Our Lady of The Lake University — the host of the hearings in 1968 and the conference last week — considered nixing its Mexican-American studies program in 2012 because of the small number of participating students. It was later saved.

“That also reminded us that if we don’t fight to keep these programs, they will be lost,” Tejeda said. “But what we needed to do was focus on getting students interested while they are younger.”

Saldaña says student interest has grown more recently thanks to political rhetoric around immigration, specifically from President Donald Trump. Trump has disparaged Mexican immigrants, questioned the impartiality of a Mexican-American judge, and made wanting to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border the center of many political speeches.

“Between what we are seeing with the current administration in office, and the battle here on the ground over the course we have been fighting for, students are getting a real-time lesson,” Saldaña said.

Somos MAS now hosts an annual summit for K-12 educators to come learn about Mexican-American Studies and how to integrate lessons into their classrooms. The University of Texas at San Antonio also offers a summer training institute that has drawn nearly 100 teachers at its most recent gathering.

It’s not nearly enough, the panelists said. “What needs to happen next is a focus on building infrastructure: such as more teacher training opportunities on how to incorporate MAS in their classrooms; a teacher certificate in Mexican-American Studies, and more advanced degrees in ethnic studies so students see a future in this field of work,” Saldaña said.

Students from KIPP Camino Academy. (Photo by Francisco Vara-Orta)

One school that has moved ahead with Mexican-American studies course is KIPP Camino Academy in San Antonio. After a pilot program two years ago, the class is now an elective for seventh- and eighth-graders.

On Friday, 20 of the KIPP students watched the discussion on the 50-year fight to get Mexican-American studies in their schools with their instructor, JoAnn Trujillo.

“Some of these kids have driven by the university here and never have gotten to step foot on its grounds,” Trujillo said. “So us being here — in part because of the program, and seeing how Mexican-American studies is something special that had to be fought for many years — will plant seeds about going to college and feeling more self-worth.”