Testing Testing

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.

good news bad news

Most Tennessee districts are showing academic growth, but districts with the farthest to go improved the least

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

It’s not just Memphis: Across Tennessee, districts with many struggling schools posted lower-than-expected growth scores on this year’s state exams, according to data released Tuesday.

The majority of Tennessee’s 147 districts did post scores that suggest students are making or exceeding expected progress, with over a third earning the top growth score.

But most students in three of the state’s four largest districts — in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga — aren’t growing academically as they should, and neither are those in most of their “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

The divide prompted Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to send a “good news, bad news” email to superintendents.

“These results point to the ability for all students to grow,” she wrote of the top-performing districts, many of which have a wide range of academic achievement and student demographics.

Of those in the bottom, she said the state would analyze the latest data to determine “critical next steps,” especially for priority schools, which also are located in high-poverty communities.

“My message to the leaders of Priority schools … is that this level of growth will never get kids back on track, so we have to double-down on what works – strong instruction and engagement, every day, with no excuses,” McQueen said.

Growth scores are supposed to take poverty into account, so the divide suggests that either the algorithm didn’t work as it’s supposed to or, in fact, little has happened to change conditions at the state’s lowest-performing schools, despite years of aggressive efforts in many places.

The results are bittersweet for Tennessee, which has pioneered growth measures for student learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools under its Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

On the one hand, the latest TVAAS data shows mostly stable growth through the transition to TNReady, the state’s new test aligned to new academic standards, in the first year of full testing for grades 3-11. On the other hand, Tennessee has invested tens of millions of dollars and years of reforms toward improving struggling schools — all part of its massive overhaul of K-12 education fueled by its 2009 federal Race to the Top award.

The state-run Achievement School District, which launched in the Race to the Top era to turn around the lowest-performing schools, saw a few bright spots, but almost two-thirds of schools in its charter-reliant portfolio scored in the bottom levels of student growth.

Shelby County’s own turnaround program, the Innovation Zone, fared poorly too, with a large percentage of its Memphis schools scoring 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, after years of scoring 4s and 5s.


District profile: Most Memphis schools score low on student growth


Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the results a “wakeup call” for the state’s biggest district in Memphis.

“When you have a population of kids in high poverty that were already lagging behind on the old, much easier test, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a lot of work to do here,” he said, citing the need to support teachers in mastering the state’s new standards.

“The good part is that we’ve seen the test now and we know what’s expected. The bad part is we’ve seen the test … and it’s a different monster,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can find district composite scores below. (A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year.) For a school-by-school list, visit the state’s website.

exclusive

Most Memphis schools score low on student growth under new state test

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than half of Memphis schools received the lowest possible score for student growth on Tennessee’s new test last school year, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat for Shelby County Schools.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest measure, about 54 percent of the district’s 187 schools scored in the bottom rung of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

That includes most schools in the Innovation Zone, a reversal after years of showing high growth in the district’s prized turnaround program.

Charter schools fared poorly as well, as did schools that were deemed among the state’s fastest-improving in 2015.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the scores a “huge wakeup call.”

“It shows that we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Monday. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be frustrating. … It starts with making sure we’re supporting teachers around mastering the new standards.”

District leaders across Tennessee have been trying to wrap their heads around the latest growth scores since receiving the data in late August from the State Department of Education. Only two years earlier, the Memphis district garnered the highest possible overall growth score. But since then, the state has switched to a harder test called TNReady that is aligned for the first time to more rigorous academic standards.

TVAAS results are scheduled to be released publicly this week, but Chalkbeat obtained a copy being circulated within Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district.

The data is prompting questions from some Memphis educators — and assurances from state officials — over the validity of TVAAS, the state’s system for measuring learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools.

This is the first year of issuing district-wide TVAAS scores since 2015. That’s because of the state’s cancellation of 2016 testing for grades 3-8 due mostly to failures in the switch to online testing.

Some educators wonder whether the bumpy switch to TNReady is a factor in this year’s nosedive, along with changes in how the scores are calculated.

For example, data for fourth-graders is missing since there is no prior state testing in third grade for comparison. Elementary and middle schools also don’t have growth scores for social studies, since the 2017 questions were a trial run and the results don’t count toward a school’s score.

Hopson acknowledged concerns over how the state compares results from “two very different tests which clearly are apples and oranges,” but he added that the district won’t use that as an excuse.

“Notwithstanding those questions, it’s the system upon which we’re evaluated on and judged,” he said.

State officials stand by TVAAS. They say drops in proficiency rates resulting from a harder test have no impact on the ability of teachers, schools and districts to earn strong TVAAS scores, since all students are experiencing the same change.

“Because TVAAS always looks at relative growth from year to year, not absolute test scores, it can be stable through transitions,” said Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education.

Shelby County Schools is not the only district with disappointing TVAAS results. In Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools logged low growth scores. But Gast said that more districts earned average or high growth scores of 3, 4 or 5 last school year than happened in 2015.

Want to help us understand this issue? Send your observations to [email protected]

Below is a breakdown of Shelby County’s TVAAS scores. A link to a school-by-school list of scores is at the bottom of this story.

Districtwide

School-wide scores are a combination of growth in each tested subject: literacy, math, science and social studies.

Fifty three schools saw high growth in literacy, an area where Shelby County Schools has doubled down, especially in early grades. And 51 schools saw high growth in math.

Note: A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year. A score of 1 represents significantly lower academic growth compared to peers across the state.

2017

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 101 54%
2 19 10%
3 20 11%
4 10 5%
5 37 20%

2015

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 58 28%
2 16 8%
3 38 19%
4 18 9%
5 75 37%

Innovation Zone

Out of the 23 schools in the district’s program to turn around low-performing schools, most received a growth score of 1 in 2017. That stands in stark contrast to prior years since the program opened in 2012, when most schools were on a fast growth track.

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 14
2 2
3 2
4 0
5 5

Reward schools

Nearly half of 32 schools deemed 2015 Tennessee reward schools for high growth saw a major drop in TVAAS scores in 2017:

  • Central High
  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Germanshire Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Middle Academy
  • Kirby High
  • Memphis Business Academy Elementary
  • Power Center Academy High
  • Power Center Academy Middle
  • Ross Elementary
  • Sheffield High
  • South Park Elementary
  • Southwind High
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Westside Elementary

Charter schools

Charter schools authorized by Shelby County Schools fared similarly to district-run schools in growth scores, with nearly half receiving a TVAAS of 1 compared to 26 percent of charter schools receiving the same score in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 18
2 6
3 7
4 2
5 7

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 10
2 2
3 7
4 3
5 16

Optional schools

Half of the the district’s optional schools, which are special studies schools that require students to test into its programs, received a 1 on TVAAS. That’s compared to just 19 percent in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 23
2 6
3 5
4 2
5 10

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
2 5
3 6
4 5
5 14

You can sort through a full list of TVAAS scores for Shelby County Schools here.