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Private schools top Marion County on ISTEP, charters best IPS

The Tindley Accelerated Schools network has two elementary schools, two middle schools and a high school.
2nd graders practice literacy skills.
Alan Petersime

Half of the 230 schools in Marion County that took the state ISTEP test this year — public, private and charter — ranked in the bottom quarter of all schools in Indiana based on their passing rates.

Just one in five of the county’s schools ranked in the top half of the state for ISTEP scores, with 13 percent in the top quarter. But although the county as a whole ranks poorly, there are differences by school type. Private schools tend to score well, and township schools generally do better than charter schools or Indianapolis Public Schools. (To find ISTEP scores for your school, go here.)

Charter schools in Marion County outperformed Indianapolis Public Schools, but not by a large margin when it comes to where they rank statewide. And, overall, the 20 charter schools sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard that took ISTEP outranked the seven charter schools that are sponsored by the state or universities. Sponsors grant charter schools the ability to operate, monitor their performance and can close those that fall short of their promises.

Out of more than 1,800 schools statewide that took ISTEP, most in Marion County ranked low for percent passing math and English.
Out of more than 1,800 schools statewide that took ISTEP, most in Marion County ranked low for percent passing math and English.

Although there was a higher percentage of IPS schools ranked in the top half of schools in the state compared to charter schools, there were fewer mayor-sponsored charters with very low passing rates.

“We don’t have a lot of extremely low-performing schools,” said Brandon Brown, Ballard’s charter school director. “We have several schools that hover right around the IPS average and a large number of schools above the IPS average. The lower-performing mayor charter schools still hover around the IPS average.”

By far the best performing schools were tuition-charging private schools. About a third of private schools were in the top quarter of all schools when it came to passing English and math on the exam for grades 3 to 8, and 48 percent were in the top half in the state.

Township schools achieved the next best group of scores. About a quarter of township schools ranked among the top half of schools in the state. (For more results for township schools, go here.)

Last year, about 9,000 Marion County students used vouchers to redirect tax dollars meant for their public school educations to pay tuition at private schools.

In other states, few private schools participate in the state testing program, but most in Indiana do. Private schools in Marion County have long been among the highest performers on ISTEP. Critics say that is because they can be selective, attracting wealthier families, picking which students to enroll and expelling those who fail to behave or achieve academically. But several of the county’s private schools that use vouchers to also serve students from poor families, who tend to have more problems in school, also scored well on ISTEP.

IPS schools outranked charter schools when it came to high-scoring schools. About 14 percent of IPS schools were in the top half of schools in the state, while the figure was 8 percent for Marion County charter schools. (For more results for IPS, go here.)

On the other end of the spectrum, IPS had the highest percentage — more than 80 percent — of its schools ranked in the bottom quarter of the state. The county’s charter schools were not much better, with 74 percent ranked in the state’s bottom quarter.

ISTEP is given annually to students in grades 3 to 8 in Indiana. The test is set to change significantly next spring and will be completely rewritten in 2016, so this is the last year results will be directly comparable to past years. (For more on changes to Indiana’s testing system, go here.)

Bright spots among the charter schools included Tindley Collegiate Academy, a new all-girls middle school in the Tindley Accelerated Schools network, taking ISTEP for the first time. It saw 82 percent of students pass.

“Those results are exceptional by any standard, but when you consider the fact that 70 percent of those students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, the results are fantastic,” said Jason Kloth, Ballard’s deputy mayor for education.

Another mayor-sponsored school, Paramount School of Excellence, saw the biggest gain among charter schools in the county, up 23 percentage points to 79 percent passing.

“We are very, very pleased at the progress that’s been made there,” Kloth said. “We attribute it to exceptionally strong leadership at the school level, the hard work and dedication of teachers and the incredible relationship that the school and administration has within the surrounding neighborhood.”

School Director Tommy Reddicks said Paramount has made steady gains of between seven and 15 points in recent years. So he expected a gain, but the size of the jump was bigger than ever before.

“It took us a couple years to really lock in our system and our school model,” he said. “Once we had it locked in, it really has taken effect.”

The school’s approach includes a heavy focus on analyzing test data and a curriculum Reddicks said turned out to be a good match after some trial and error and help from state officials.

“We’re not bashful,” he said. “We call up the state all the time and say, ‘where are you seeing the results?’”

The school, located on the East side, also benefits from deep roots in the community. Reddicks tells job candidates that he expects them to be involved and to know the neighborhood.

“They have to prove that is part of who they are,” he said. “If you don’t put it at that level, you can’t build a culture where that is the expectation.”

It shows.

“They are always at community events,” said city-county council member Zach Adamson, who represents the area. “They are a fixture at every community event we have. I think it’s a model for how a school should be run.”

Another mayor-sponsored school, however, saw a big decline.

Last year’s stunning results from Flanner House School, when it saw an extraordinary 42 point gain, were not repeated.

Flanner House, a charter school on the North side, this year saw a nearly equivalent decline — down nearly 39 points to 56.5 percent passing. School officials could not be reached for comment.

Last year’s gain vaulted Flanner House into elite company. The school, where 95 percent of kids come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, ranked in the top 0.01 percent of schools for its ISTEP performance. It outscored all but two schools in Carmel, for example, the state’s top performing district where just 7.6 percent of kids qualify for free or reduce-price lunch.

This year, Flanner House ranked in the bottom 11 percent of schools in Indiana. Before last year, Flanner House had never seen more than 65 percent of students pass ISTEP.

Also seeing big declines were Andrew Academy (down 22 points to 53.4 percent passing) and Padua Academy (down 12 points to 39.7 percent passing.) Both are former Catholic schools that converted to charter schools. Catholic officials still are involved in overseeing the schools.

“Were disappointed with what the results have been,” said Greg Otolski, a spokesman for the Indianapolis Catholic archdiocese. “I know there is a lot of concern in this building and the mayor’s office about the performance of those two schools. I suspect we will be having some discussions soon about that.”

Other charter schools with notable ISTEP results included:

  • Southeast Neighborhood School of Excellence. Located in the Fountain Square neighborhood on the South side, the school has struggled in recent years but had a six point gain to 55.7 percent passing.
  • Enlace Academy. A new charter school affiliated with Cathedral High School, Enlace shares space in an IPS school building and posted scores for the first time. They were not good: just 28.6 percent passed ISTEP. But more than half of the students are still learning English as a second language, resulting in a very low 28 percent passing rate for English, while math passing rates were strong at 85 percent.
  • KIPP. A school that is part of a highly regarded national charter school network, KIPP saw its passing rate drop nearly 10 points to 48 percent after several years of gains.
  • Avondale Meadows Academy. Formerly known as the Challenge Foundation Academy, the school raised its passing rate nearly 8 points to 72.5 percent, cracking the top five among mayor-sponsored charter schools. The others were Tindley Collegiate (84.8 percent), Paramount (78.9 percent), Tindley Preparatory Academy (75.6 percent) and Irvington Community School (72.5 percent).

NOTE: This story was updated to correct an error in the chart which misstated the percentage of charter school in the second quarter.

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