Indianapolis Public Schools has a large number of struggling schools with low test scores, but in 2013-14 the district also had eight schools that exceeded the state average for the percent of students who passed the state ISTEP exam and 13 schools that earned an A-grade from the state.
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.
The top 10 IPS schools for passing ISTEP had one big attribute in common in 2014 — all of them were magnet schools. Seven of the 10 also are located North of downtown.
Some magnet themes are proving successful at raising test scores at several schools. All three IPS Montessori schools rank in the district’s top 10 for ISTEP scores, as do two of its three Centers for Inquiry schools.
(ISTEP scores and grades for the 2014-15 school year are not expected to be released until late this year or early next year.)
Many of the magnet schools are demographically different from most of IPS. They tend to have fewer children who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, for example. To do so, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually. Magnet schools also might have fewer students in special education or who are learning English as a new language, two challenges that can make it harder for a school to earn a high passing rate.
But some schools with major challenges do score well. Five non-magnet neighborhood schools rated an A in 2014, along with a couple magnet schools that draw heavily from the neighborhoods near the schools or have demographic profiles that are similar to neighborhood schools.
Here’s a look at the top 10 IPS schools for percent passing ISTEP in 2014, plus seven other schools that earned A grades:
Sidener Gifted Academy
It’s not terribly unexpected to find that a school designed to serve students who test as gifted ranks very high when it comes to academic performance.
And you certainly find that at Merle Sidener Gifted Academy, an IPS-run magnet school with 353 students that has never seen fewer than 97 percent of its students pass ISTEP. Every single one of the 287 Sidener students who took the exam in 2014 passed it.
The school looks much more like a suburban school than one that belongs to IPS demographically, with far fewer children with challenges that are often barriers to learning. About 65 percent of Sidener’s students comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The district average is 76 percent. Just 7 percent of Sidener students need special education services, and only 1 percent are English language learners. The district averages in those areas are 18 percent and 16 percent, respectively.
About half the school’s students are white, while 26 percent are black and 11 percent Hispanic. The district averages are 20 percent white, 50 percent black and 23 percent Hispanic.
Sidener gives IPS plenty to brag about. It is the state’s highest ranked elementary school for ISTEP scores, meaning a higher percentage of students pass the state exam at this IPS school than in any of the wealthiest suburbs in the state.
Three magnet elementary schools make up the Centers for Inquiry in IPS, and School 84 has the highest test scores of the bunch. The school, serving 378 students in grades K to 8 on the North side, has earned five consecutive A grades from the state.
The CFI concept began in IPS with a group of teachers in 1991 who created the original curriculum at School 92. CFI borrows the inquiry approach to study from science, in which students solve problems using experimentation, and applies it to all subjects.
With 96.3 percent passing ISTEP, School 84 ranked second in the district and has been on a five-year upward trend. But like many IPS magnets, the school’s demographic profile is more comparable to wealthier suburban schools than most of its district peers.
School 84’s enrollment is 82 percent white, 7 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic. Only 8 percent of the students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch. Just 13 percent are in special education and 1 percent are English language learners. In 2011, School 84 was named national elementary school of the year by the Magnet Schools Association.
Also known as Theodore Potter Elementary School, School 74 is the district’s Spanish language immersion magnet school. It serves about 280 students in grades K to 6 and is located on the city’s East side.
The school’s academic grade has been volatile over the past four years. School 74 was only rated a B in 2014 despite a high ISTEP passing rate of 89.2 percent, 10 points above the state average. But student growth was weak enough for the school to fall back one grade from an A the prior year. Before that, the school had been rated a D and a C.
The Spanish immersion magnet theme has proven attractive to Hispanic families. Hispanic children make up about 61 percent of the school’s enrollment, and about 44 percent of students are English language learners, nearly three times the district average. About 28 percent of students are black, and 6 percent are white.
About 20 percent of the school’s enrollment is in special education. School-wide, about 79 percent of students come from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
School 91 is a Montessori magnet school on the North side that is also known as Rousseau McClellan Elementary School. About 475 students are enrolled in grades K to 8.
School 91 has earned eight A’s over nine years, including 2014. Its 83 percent passing rate on ISTEP in 2014 was above the state average and its highest passing rate in a decade. Like many of the top-ranked magnet schools, School 91’s enrollment includes fewer children from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 60 percent.
The school is 42 percent white, 34 percent black and 14 percent Hispanic. About 23 percent of students are in special education, more than the district average of 18 percent, and 10 percent are English language learners, which is less than the district average of 16 percent.
Also known as Francis W. Parker Elementary School, this is Northeast side Montessori-themed elementary magnet school like the also highly rated School 91.
But while its Montessori sister school has long been among the district’s top scorers on ISTEP, School 56 was rated an F just three years ago and has dramatically improved to earn an A in 2014 and the prior year. School 56 has seen a four-year gain in the percent of students passing ISTEP to 82.7 percent passing in 2014 — exceeding the state average — up from 59 percent in 2011.
One of just 10 K-to-8 elementary schools in IPS, School 56 serves about 316 students. Demographically, it looks much like a typical IPS neighborhood school. It has higher poverty than most high-scoring magnet schools, with 81 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. The school also has a large number of students in special education — 31 percent, or almost twice the district average. About 6 percent are English language learners.
The school is 72 percent black, 12 percent white and 11 percent Hispanic.
Also known as Ernie Pyle Elementary School, School 90 had a remarkable five-year run of improving test performance that ended in 2014, but the school still posted its sixth straight year with an A grade.
Twice the school has been honored by the Indiana Department of Education for ranking among the state’s best schools for test score growth. Over five years its ISTEP gains raised the school’s passing rate to 84 percent in 2013. Last year, it slipped slightly to 81.9 percent, still well above the state average and up from 55 percent in 2009. The school has about 395 students in grades K to 6.
School 90 is a Paideia magnet school, using a curriculum inspired by the Socratic method and ancient Greek ideas on education. But it serves mostly students form the surrounding neighborhood and demographically resembles a typical neighborhood school: 81 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, 27 percent are English language learners, 18 percent are in special education, 43 percent are black, 39 percent are Hispanic and 12 percent are white.
School 2 is another of the three Center for Inquiry magnet schools. Located downtown, it serves about 385 students in grades K to 8.
After a run of five years with an A or B grade, the school slipped to a C last year because of low growth on test scores over the prior year. Its ISTEP passing rate fell three points from the prior year. Even so, its 79 percent passing rate ranked in the top 10 for IPS.
This is another IPS magnet school that looks different from most of the districts schools demographically. About 32 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and 5 percent are English language learners, both below what most IPS schools have. About 16 percent are in special education.
About 67 percent of students at School 2 are white, 14 percent black and 7 percent Hispanic.
Cold Spring School
With about 295 students in grades K to 6, Cold Spring is an environmental magnet elementary school located on the Northwest side of Indianapolis.
A big jump in ISTEP scores propelled Cold Spring to an A grade in 2014, up from two consecutive C grades. About 77 percent of students passed ISTEP that year, a 13 percentage point gain over the prior year. It was the fourth straight year of test score gains.
The school’s poverty rate is very close to the district average, with about 74 percent of students at the school qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. It has fewer special education students than most IPS schools at 12 percent and English language learners at 8 percent. The school is about 72 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white.
School 87, also called George Washington Carver Elementary School, is a Montessori magnet school serving grades K to 8 located Northwest of downtown.
The school’s Montessori program was formerly housed inside School 67 as a school-within-a-school. Three years ago, the program was moved to the vacant School 87 building to become the district’s third Montessori school, aimed at serving students who live on the West side of Indianapolis. In 2014, School 87 earned its first letter grade, a B. Its 73 percent passing rate fell one point short of equaling the state average.
While it is a magnet school, the demographics of School 87 are much more comparable to those of a typical IPS neighborhood school. About 81 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, while 28 percent are English language learners, and 13 percent are in special education. The school is 47 percent Hispanic, 40 percent white and 36 percent black.
Also called William Bell Elementary School, this North side school has transitioned into a magnet school since 2011. IPS partnered with Butler University to create a magnet “lab school” within the building. The school follows a Reggio Emilia curriculum, through which children are placed among a variety of physical materials that are used to help them experience and understand the concepts they learn.
The Reggio approach has expanded from preschool and low elementary grades to now serve the entire school. The transition was part of an effort to overhaul the school, which earned an F in five of the prior seven years as a traditional IPS neighborhood school. As low as 26 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2011.
Because of the change, the school has not yet earned an A-to-F grade as a magnet school. But its test scores have dramatically jumped. Its 69.6 percent passing rate for 2014 was a huge 35 percentage point gain over the prior year.
About 35 percent of the 355 students in grades K to 5 at the school qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. That number has been dropping as the magnet theme was put in place. About 85 percent qualified as recently as 2012.
The demographic makeup of the school has changed, too. Last year, about 58 percent were white, 28 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic. In 2012, the numbers were 10 percent white, 82 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic.
About 11 percent of students are in special education and 3 percent are English language learners. In 2012, 23 percent were in special education. The percentage of English language learners is unchanged.
Seven other IPS schools earned an A
Other IPS schools that were rated an A but either didn’t take ISTEP or ranked outside the district’s top 10 for ISTEP scores include:
- School 54. Also known as Brookside Elementary School, this is a neighborhood school on the city’s East side. The school jumped to an A in 2014 from an F two years before, thanks largely to strong test gains. The school reached 54 percent passing ISTEP in 2014, its highest rate since 2008 and a 14 percentage point gain over two years. It was only the second time in a decade the school’s grade was above a C.
- School 57. Also known as George W. Julian Elementary School, this is a neighborhood school located on the city’s East side. The school’s grade was an A last year, its highest grade since 2005, creeping up from a B the prior year after a string of C’s. The school’s 67 percent passing rate in 2014 was a three-point jump over the prior year and its highest passing rate since 2007.
- School 79. Also called Carl Wilde Elementary School, this Northwest side neighborhood school is one of the biggest success stories in IPS. After consecutive F’s in 2005 and 2006, the school has steadily improved and is now one of IPS’s most consistent high performers, having earned four straight A’s. In 2014, 67 percent passed ISTEP.
- School 99. Also known as Arlington Woods Elementary School, School 99 is a neighborhood school and the birthplace of IPS’s highly regarded Project Restore program. Project restore, now operating in three IPS elementary schools, focuses on consistent discipline and frequent testing and regrouping of students based on their progress. After two teachers launched the program at the East side school, its grade soared to an A in 2012 following five years in which it never exceeded a C. In 2013, the school’s grade fell back to a C after its passing rate fell two points. But it was back up by five points to 63 percent in 2014 and regained its A grade.
- School 109. Also known as Jonathan Jennings Elementary School, this West side neighborhood school’s passing rate has been on the rise for three years, reaching 64 percent passing in 2014 and earning the school its first A grade in five years. The A grade completed a steady climb in test performance since the school received an F in 2011.
- Crisps Attucks High School. Perhaps the biggest high school success story in IPS, Crispus Attucks earned its third straight A grade in 2014 with about 68 percent passing end-of-course exams in English and Algebra. The school is a medical magnet program and is located downtown. As recently as 2011, the school had been rated a D or F for five straight years.
- Gambold Prep High School. Shifting this year from the West side, the college preparatory magnet program is now located at Shortridge High School. Of the 52 students who took end-of-course exams in English and Algebra, 98 percent passed.
NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced price lunch at School 2 and School 60.