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.

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: