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.

School choice

Secret CPS report spotlights big vacancies, lopsided options for students

The school district says the report will help inform how it invests in and engages with communities. Communities groups worry the document will be used to justify more school closings, turnarounds and charters.

An unreleased report by a school choice group backed by the business community paints in stark detail what many Chicagoans have known for years: that top academic schools are clustered in wealthier neighborhoods, and that fewer black and Latino students have access to those schools.

The report highlights startling figures: About 27 percent of black students are in the district’s lowest-rated schools, compared with 8 percent of Latino students and 3 percent of whites. It also says that while Chicago Public Schools has more than 150,000 unfilled seats, 40 percent, or 60,000 of them, are at top-ranked schools. That surplus will grow as enrollment, which has been plummeting for years, is projected to decline further by 5.1 percent over the next three years. What that means is the cash-strapped district is moving toward having nearly one extra seat for every two of its students.

The document effectively shows that, in many areas of the city, students are skipping out on nearby options, with less than half of district students attending their designated neighborhood schools.

In a city still reeling from the largest mass school closure in U.S. history, this report could lay groundwork for another round of  difficult decisions.

The “Annual Regional Analysis” report, compiled by the group Kids First Chicago on CPS’ behalf, has been circulating among select community groups but has not been made public. It comes on the heels of a report showing students’ high school preferences vary with family income level. Students from low-income neighborhoods submit more applications than students from wealthier ones and apply in greater numbers for the district’s charter high schools.

The group behind the latest report has had many iterations: Kids First is a new name, but its origins date back to 2004, when it started as the charter fundraising group Renaissance Schools Fund. That was during the Renaissance 2010 effort, which seeded 100 new schools across the city, including many charters. The group changed its name to New Schools Chicago in 2011 and again rebranded this year as Kids First, with a greater focus on parent engagement and policy advocacy.

The report has caused a stir among some community groups who’ve seen it. Because the school district has used enrollment figures to justify closing schools, some people are worried it could be used to propose more closings, turnarounds, and charter schools.

“To me this is the new reason [for school closings],” said Carolina Gaeta, co-director of community group Blocks Together, which supports neighborhood schools. “Before it was academics, then it was utilization, now it’s going to be access and equity. Numbers can be used any way.”

In a statement on the report, Chicago Teachers Union Spokeswoman Christine Geovanis blasted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration for policies that she alleged “undermine enrollment at neighborhood schools,” such as the proliferation of charter schools, school budget cuts, and building new schools over the objection of community members.

Reached by phone Thursday, Kids First CEO Daniel Anello confirmed that his organization helped put the report together, but declined to comment on its contents, deferring to the district. CPS Spokeswoman Emily Bolton acknowledged the report’s existence in a statement emailed to Chalkbeat Chicago that said the school district “is having conversations with communities to get input and inform decisions” about where to place particular academic programs. The statement said CPS is still in the process of drafting a final version of the document, but gave no timetable. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office didn’t grant requests for interviews about the Annual Regional Analysis.

Below is a preview of the report provided to Chalkbeat Chicago.

Gaps in access to arts and IB programs

Data released this week from the district’s GoCPS universal high school application clearly shows what academic programs are most in demand: selective enrollment programs that require children to test in;  arts programs; and career and technical education offerings, or CTE.

The Kids First’s analysis puts those findings into context, however, by detailing how supply is geographically uneven, especially when it comes to arts. Maps in the report divide the city into regions defined by the city’s planning department and show how highly-desirable arts programs are not spread equally throughout the city, and are most concentrated along the northern lakefront and downtown.

PHOTO: Sam Park
This map shows the number of fine & performing arts program seats available per 100 elementary school students in each planning area.

Worse, four regions offer 10 or fewer arts seats per 100 students, including the Bronzeville/South Lakefront region that includes neighborhoods such as South Shore, Woodlawn, Kenwood and Hyde Park. They are also scarce in the West Side region, which includes Austin, North Lawndale, and Humboldt Park and in the Northwest neighborhoods of Belmont Cragin, Dunning, and Portage Park.

The report also shows an imbalance in the number of rigorous International Baccalaureate programs.

This map shows the number of IB program seats per 100 students available to elementary and high school students in each planning area.

The highest number of IB seats are in the wealthy, predominately white Lincoln Park area. In contrast, there are far fewer IB seats in predominantly black communities such as  Englewood and Auburn Gresham, Ashburn and in the predominantly Latino Back of the Yards.

When it comes to selective-enrollment elementary school programs such as gifted centers and classical schools, which require students to pass entrance exams, options tend to be concentrated, too, with fewer choices on the South and West sides of the city. This map shows where selective enrollment high school options are most prevalent:

PHOTO: Sam Park
This map shows the number of selective enrollment high school seats available per 100 students in the city’s planning regions.

STEM programs are more evenly distributed across Chicago than both IB and selective enrollment schools, yet whole swaths of the city lack them, especially on the South Side, including the Greater Stony Island. As the other maps show, that region lacks most of the high-demand academic programs the district has to offer.

PHOTO: Sam Park
This map shows the number of STEM program seats available per 100 elementary school students.

Racial disparities in school quality

The analysis also shows disparities in quality of schools, not just variety.

At CPS, 65 percent of students districtwide are enrolled at Level 1-plus or Level 1-rated schools. But only 45 percent of black students and 72 percent of Latino students are in those top-rated seats, compared with 91 percent of white students.

The disparities are even more severe given that the school district is mostly Latino and black, with fewer than one in 10 students identified as white. 

A page from a presentation of the Annual Regional Analysis showed to select community groups.

In the Greater Lincoln Park region, 100 percent of elementary schools have one of the top two ratings — the highest concentration of them in the city.  The highest concentration of top-rated high school seats, 91 percent, is in the Central Area, which includes Downtown and the South Loop.

The lowest concentration of top-rated elementary seats, 35 percent, is in the Near West Side region, and the lowest concentration of high school seats, 14 percent, is in the West Side region.

Long commutes from some neighborhoods

The number of students choosing schools outside their neighborhood boundaries has increased in recent years.

But the report shows that school choice varies by race: 44 percent of black students attend their neighborhood elementary school, compared with 67 percent of Latino students, 69 percent of white students, and 66 percent of Asian students. For high schoolers, only 14 percent of black students attend their neighborhood school, compared with 28 percent of Asians, 30 percent of Latinos, and 32 percent of whites.

More students enrolling outside their neighborhood attendance boundaries means more and more students have longer commutes, but how far they travel depends on their address. 

Again, this is an area where the Greater Stony Island area stands out.

A graphic from the Annual Regional Analysis executive report that shows how far elementary school students in each of the city’s 16 planning regions travel from their homes to school. The data shows that students on the South and West Sides tend to have longer commutes.

The average distance traveled for elementary school students is 1.5 miles — but K-8 students in Greater Stony Island travel an average of 2.6 miles. The average distance to class for high schoolers citywide is 2.6 miles, but students in the Greater Stony Island region travel an average of 5 miles, about twice the city average. 

A graphic from the Annual Regional Analysis executive report that shows how far high school students in each of the city’s 16 planning regions travel from their homes to school. The data shows that students on the South and West Sides tend to have longer commutes.

Looking forward

The introduction to the Annual Regional Analysis describes it as “a common fact base” to understand the school landscape. It clearly states the intent of the report is to assist with district planning, not to provide recommendations.

It still bothers Wendy Katten, founder of Raise Your Hand, who has seen the report and said it tells little about how kids are actually learning at schools.

“It sounds like some data a company would use to reduce inventory at a manufacturing plant,” she said.

Gaete with Blocks Together said the numbers in the report are also missing important context about how the proliferation of charter schools, a lack of transparent and equitable planning, and a lack of support for neighborhood schools in recent decades has exacerbated school quality disparities across race and neighborhoods in Chicago, one of the nation’s most diverse but segregated cities.

It’s unclear when the final study will be published, or how exactly the school district will use its contents to inform its decisions and conversations with communities.

But an event posting on the website for Forefront, a membership association for “nonprofits, grantmakers, public agencies, advisors, and our allies,” mentions a briefing for the report on Oct. 10.

Kids First Chicago CEO Dan Anello and CPS Director of Strategy Sadie Stockdale Jefferson will share the report there, according to the website.

state test results

With accelerated growth in literacy and math, Denver students close in on state averages

Angel Trigueros-Martinez pokes his head from the back of the line as students wait to enter the building on the first day of school at McGlone Academy on Wednesday. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

Denver elementary and middle school students continued a recent streak of high academic growth this year on state literacy and math tests, results released Thursday show. That growth inched the district’s scores even closer to statewide averages, turning what was once a wide chasm into a narrow gap of 2 percentage points in math and 3 in literacy.

Still, fewer than half of Denver students in grades three through eight met state expectations in literacy, and only about a third met them in math.

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Denver’s high schoolers lagged in academic growth, especially ninth-graders who took the PSAT for the first time. Their test scores were lower than statewide averages.

“We are absolutely concerned about that,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said Thursday of the ninth-grade scores, “and that is data we need to dig in on and understand.”

Students across Colorado took standardized literacy and math tests this past spring. Third- through eighth-graders took the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, tests, which are also known as the PARCC tests. High school students took college entrance exams: Ninth- and 10th-graders took the PSAT, a preparatory test, and 11th-graders took the SAT.

On CMAS, 42 percent of Denver students in grades three through eight met or exceeded state expectations in literacy. Statewide, 45 percent of students did. In math, 32 percent of Denver students met expectations, compared with 34 percent statewide.

While Denver’s overall performance improved in both subjects, third-grade literacy scores were flat. That’s noteworthy because the district has invested heavily in early literacy training for teachers and has seen progress on tests taken by students in kindergarten through third grade. That wasn’t reflected on the third-grade CMAS test, though Boasberg said he’s hopeful it will be as more students meant to benefit from the training take that test.

On the PSAT tests, Denver ninth-graders earned a mean score of 860, which was below the statewide mean score of 902. The mean PSAT score for Denver 10th-graders was 912, compared with the statewide mean score of 944. And on the SAT, Denver 11th-graders had a mean score of 975. Statewide, the mean score for 11th-graders was 1014.

White students in Denver continued to score higher, and make more academic progress year to year, than black and Hispanic students. The same was true for students from high- and middle-income families compared with students from low-income families.

For example, 69 percent of Denver students from high- and middle-income families met expectations on the CMAS literacy tests, compared with just 27 percent of students from low-income families – which equates to a 42 percentage-point gap. That especially matters in Denver because two-thirds of the district’s 92,600 students are from low-income families.

Boasberg acknowledged those gaps, and said it is the district’s core mission to close them. But he also pointed out that Denver’s students of color and those from low-income families show more academic growth than their peers statewide. That means they’re making faster progress and are more likely to reach or surpass grade-level in reading, writing, and math.

Denver Public Schools pays a lot of attention to annual academic growth, as measured by a state calculation known as a “median growth percentile.”

The calculation assigns students a score from 1 to 99 that reflects how much they improved compared with other students with similar score histories. A score of 99 means a student did better on the test than 99 percent of students who scored similarly to him the year before.

Students who score above 50 are considered to have made more than a year’s worth of academic progress in a year’s time, whereas students who score below 50 are considered to have made less than a year’s worth of progress.

The state also calculates overall growth scores for districts and schools. Denver Public Schools earned a growth score of 55 on the CMAS literacy tests and 54 on the CMAS math tests. Combined, those scores were the highest among Colorado’s 12 largest districts.

Other bright spots in the district’s data: Denver’s students learning English as a second language – who make up more than a third of the population – continued to outpace statewide averages in achievement. For example, 29 percent of Denver’s English language learners met expectations in literacy, while only 22 percent statewide did, according to the district.

Denver eighth-graders also surpassed statewide averages in literacy for the first time this year: 45 percent met or exceeded expectations, as opposed to 44 percent statewide. That increase is reflected in the high growth scores for Denver eighth-graders: 52 in math and 57 in literacy.

Those contrast sharply with the ninth-grade growth scores: 47 in math and an especially low 37 in literacy. That same group of students had higher growth scores last year, Boasberg said; why their progress dropped so precipitously is part of what district officials hope to figure out.