Are Children Learning

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.

Measure of Success

State ratings identify 163 Colorado schools in need of improvement

PHOTO: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Students in kindergarten on the first day of school at McGlone Academy.

More than 160 Colorado schools received one of the state’s two lowest ratings, making them eligible for additional assistance but also vulnerable to intervention if they don’t improve student performance.

The watch list comprises 9 percent of Colorado’s 1,800 schools and educate roughly 74,000 students, or 8.5 percent or the state’s almost 900,000 students. That means the vast majority of students in the state attend a school with one of the two higher rankings on the four-point scale.

The State Board of Education finalized the ratings Wednesday. The state gives separate district-wide ratings, which were finalized last month.

“The state’s accountability system is built on the premise that all students should receive a high quality education and graduate ready for college or careers,” Katy Anthes, Colorado’s education commissioner, said in a statement. “Our goal is to give all students a chance to excel. These designations allow us to identify struggling schools that may need more support to help students achieve their highest aspirations. And they also highlight successful schools so that other schools can learn from them.”

All public schools receive a state rating, known as the School Performance Framework report, each year. It’s based largely on student scores on the state’s English and math tests. Student growth, or how much students learn year-to-year compared to peers with similar results on state tests, carries most weight. High school graduation and dropout rates are also factored in.

Colorado Department of Education

There are four ratings: performance (the highest), improvement, priority improvement and turnaround (the lowest).

Schools and districts that have one of the lower two ratings are placed on a watch list and have five years to improve before facing state intervention. Schools on the list are eligible for grants for leadership training and help from outside consultants, but if change doesn’t come fast enough, the state could hand over control to an external manager, require conversion to a charter, or close schools.

Earlier this fall, the State Board of Education ordered the Adams 14 school district, based in Commerce City, and two schools in Pueblo in southern Colorado to turn over control to external managers after earlier intervention efforts did not produce enough improvement.

Colorado is still figuring out what effective intervention looks like and if outsiders can make a difference for students that existing leadership has not been able to achieve.

Most Colorado schools maintained the same rating they had in 2017, with 15 percent moving down at least one level and 14 percent moving up at least one level. Eighteen schools improved enough to get off the state watch list, which is often known as the “accountability clock,” some after initial state intervention last year.

Six schools are entering their eighth year on the watch list: Aurora Central High School, Adams City High School, Aguilar Junior-Senior High School in the tiny Aguilar district in southern Colorado, Hope Online Learning Academy Elementary School in Douglas County, Heroes Middle School, and Risley International Academy of Innovation, the last two both in Pueblo.

Two are entering year six: Central Elementary School in the Adams 14 district and Minnequa Elementary School in Pueblo.

Another four are entering year five, now the last year to improve before state intervention: Manual High School and Montbello Career and Technical High School in Denver, Mesa Elementary in the Montezuma-Cortez district in southwest Colorado, and EDCSD: Colorado Cyber School in Douglas County.

In the past, some schools received more time to improve because the “clock” was paused for several years as the state changed assessments. But now there are no more extensions beyond year five.

Of the state’s 42 online schools, a little more than half received one of the top two ratings, and 31 percent did not report enough data for the state to grant a rating. Colorado has more stringent regulations of online schools than many states, but there is an ongoing debate about how well these schools serve students.

About 84 percent of the state’s 247 charter schools received one of the top two ratings, compared to 89 percent of all Colorado schools. Twenty-six charter schools, or 10.5 percent, received one of the lowest two ratings.

Look up your school here:

Literacy tutors needed

Detroit enlists volunteer tutors before third-grade reading law takes effect

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

Detroit’s school district is asking the community for help getting students reading at grade level. The superintendent is hoping volunteer literacy tutors will prevent a critical mass of third-graders from being held back under the state’s tough new reading law.

“We need your help,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said, making an appeal for volunteers during a school board meeting Tuesday night. “Our teachers and our principals and our schools alone will not be able to ensure that every student is at third-grade level without your help.”

Which is why the district is working with two community advocacy groups, Keep the Vote/No Takeover and the National Action Network, to launch the Let’s Read program, geared to K-3 students. The program is slated to begin in February — less than a year before the reading law takes effect. Once it does, during the 2019-2020 school year, Michigan third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level will be held back.

In the Detroit district, where proficiency levels on state exams are extremely low, the consequences could be dire. During a community forum last week, Vitti said that the law could hold back as many as 90% of Detroit third-graders, though Michigan’s education department has yet to define what it means for a student to be reading at grade level. At the forum, though, he noted exemptions from the law for such as students with special education needs and those who speak little to no English.

The Let’s Read volunteers will be assigned to individual students based on need. They will read with the children and help them with book selections.

Helen Moore, a longtime community activist who represents the two community organizations behind the volunteer effort, urged people to sign up during the public comment period of the meeting.

“I know our students will succeed, because they’re brilliant,” Moore said. But they and their parents need help, she said.

Vitti said the volunteer cohort is one of many literacy-building efforts underway. In addition, he said that every district school will hold family literacy nights and that its Parent Academy will expand its classes that teach parents how to help their children with reading. A community-wide event to teach Detroiters about the reading law — and what they can do to help — will also be held.

Moore said the word is starting to get out about the Let’s Read program, noting: “The telephone has been ringing like crazy. And now the suburban districts want to be part of it.”

The focus, though, is on Detroit, she said.

Want to volunteer: You can fill out a form here, or call 313-873-7884.