Struggling schools

Low state ISTEP test scores landed these 10 Indianapolis Public Schools at the bottom

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis middle school students have long struggled on state standardized exams, but a new, tougher ISTEP test in 2015 produced some abysmal results for middle schoolers in the state’s largest school district.

Of the ten IPS schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores last year, six were schools serving middle schoolers.

Their scores were so low that at some schools, the percentage of students who passed the exam were in the single digits.

Several of those middle school students attend combined high schools for grades 6-12 or 7-12. At some of them, high school students score well. But since ISTEP is administered only in grades 3-8, the middle grades are treated as a separate school for reporting purposes.

Chalkbeat last week highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam. Those schools managed to do comparatively well on the test even as the average Indiana school saw a 19 percentage point drop in the number of students who passed the exam in 2015 compared with 2014.

The ten schools at the bottom of the list for IPS showed even deeper declines than their peers across the state. Many of those are facing additional challenges including large numbers of poor students, English language learners and students with special needs.

Here’s at look at the 10 schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores in the district:

Crispus Attucks Junior High School

Just 15 percent of middle school students at Crispus Attucks High School passed ISTEP in 2015, down 31 percentage points from last year.

Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.

Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school located downtown that is a high performer. Its high school students have earned the school an A on the state school report card for four straight years based on end-of-course exams and other factors.

But on ISTEP, the 647 students in grades 6 to 8 have earned three consecutive F grades.

About 71 percent of the middle school students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the same as the districtwide average. To qualify, a family cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

The middle school students are 56 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 5 percent white. The district averages are 49 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 13 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. The district averages for that year were 18 percent in special education and 16 percent English language learners.

School 42

The passing rate for School 42 also dropped by a large amount, down 31 percentage points from 2014.

ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.
ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.

That dropped the school into the bottom 10 in IPS.

Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, this is is a neighborhood school on the city’s North side with 517 students.

Its grade fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there for four straight years.

The school has very high student poverty: about 78 percent of School 42’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most students are minorities — 82 percent are black, 10 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent white.

Nearly a quarter of the school’s students were in special education classes — 23 percent –and 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 69

Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, School 69 got an A from the state in 2010 but has earned four straight F’s since then.

Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.

Next year, the school will be managed by the charter school network that operates Enlace, a charter school housed in an IPS building. School 69 will be following the model IPS used at School 103, which last summer was handed over to Phalen Leadership Academies charter school network last fall to be independently managed.

The school, serving about 375 students, saw its passing rate fall by 29 percentage points to 13 percent in 2015.

That reversed a trend that had seen scores improving strongly for three straight years. Still, the school has been among the district’s lowest scorers even as scores were going up.

Like most IPS neighborhood schools, School 69 struggles with the challenges of serving a very high poverty student body.

About 83 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 86 percent of kids enrolled are black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

About 17 percent of students were in special education, and less than 1 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Broad Ripple Junior High School

With about 13 percent of middle school students passing ISTEP in 2015, Broad Ripple’s passing rate fell by 31 percentage points.

Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.

Like Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple has a big divide between high school and middle school test performance. That’s part of the reason IPS has a plan to shift middle school students out of Broad Ripple.

The high school has earned four straight B grades based on high school passing rates, but the middle school scores have earned the school three straight F grades.

About 72 percent of middle schools students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The middle school students are 66 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 7 percent white.

About 18 percent of students were in special education and 9 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 103

School 103, also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, is in the midst of a high profile overhaul.

The Northeast side neighborhood school, which has been among the worst in the district for test scores for years, was handed over by IPS to be managed under a contract by Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. The district is now working on following that model with outside partnerships to run low-scoring schools.

IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.
IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.

The 2015 ISTEP scores reflect the last year of IPS management for School 103. Just less than 10 percent of the school’s students passed the test, down from 15 percent in 2014. The 2016 scores will be the first since Phalen took over. The passing percentage had been falling since 2009.

School 103 faces many of the difficult challenges of most IPS schools.

About 74 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 83 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white. About 21 percent of the school’s student were in special education and 9 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

George Washington Junior High School

Fewer than one in 10 middle school students at George Washington High School passed ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.

George Washington is a West side high school that has been troubled for more than a decade. It was nearly taken over by the state for low test scores in 2012, but IPS has been allowed to continue managing the school.

Last year’s 9 percent passing rate cut last year’s passing rate with a big drop over 2014 when 18 percent of students passed the test. That earned the middle school its third consecutive F. About 255 students in grades 7 and 8 attend the school.

About 75 percent of George Washington’s middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 45 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white.

A huge 36 percent of students were in special education and 11 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 44

Just 8 percent of students at School 44 passed ISTEP in 2015, down 22 percentage points from the prior year.

Also called Riverside Elementary School, the school is located on the city’s North side. The school earned its fourth consecutive F last year.

School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.

Those results have IPS looking to make changes. Like School 69, School 44 also is being considered for outside management under contract next year.

School 44 appears poised to host Global Prep Academy, a new dual-language charter school to be run by Mariama Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who is developing the concept with support from a fellowship from The Mind Trust.

About 85 percent of School 44’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Roughly 64 percent of students are black, 25 percent Hispanic and 9 percent white.

Those in special education made up about 16 percent of students, and about 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Arlington Junior High School

Arlington High School was one of the lowest scoring schools in Indiana in 2012, which is why it was one of the first five schools to be taken over by the state that year.

Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.

It was managed externally by Tindley Accelerated Schools, a charter school network until Tindley pulled out at the end of the last school year.

IPS took control of the school last fall, so these scores reflect the last school year of Tindley’s management.

IPS recently relocated all of Arlington’s middle school students to a restricted area of the building to limit contact with high school students.

When it came to middle school, the scores were very low: 6 percent passed in 2015.

Arlington has 273 students in grades 7 and 8. About 72 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The school is 87 percent black, six percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

No data is available for the percent of middle school students who are in special education or learning English as a new language.

Northwest Junior High School

Northwest High School has long been one of the lowest-scoring schools in Indiana when it comes to state exams. Last year was no exception.

Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school students this year had among the very lowest scores in the state in 2015 as just less than 6 percent of them passed ISTEP.

That’s down 15 percentage points from the year before. The middle school students’ scores have earned Northwest four consecutive F grades.

The school has 306 students in grades 7 and 8. About 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 60 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.

About 21 percent of the school’s middle school students were in special education and 20 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, that last year for which data is available.

John Marshall Junior High School

Ranking lowest of any IPS school for percent passing ISTEP in 2015 was John Marshall High School’s middle school students.

Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the worst in IPS.
Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the lowest in IPS.

Just 3 percent of 287 students in grades 7 and 8 at the school passed the state exam.

The middle school students’ scores have earned John Marshall an F grade for four straight years.

The school faces the challenges of high poverty. About 76 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The middle school students are 69 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

About 27 percent of middle school students at the school are in special education an 9 percent are English language learners.

more digging

Kingsbury High added to list of Memphis schools under investigation for grade changing

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Kingsbury High School was added to a list of schools being investigated by an outside firm for improper grade changes. Here, Principal Terry Ross was featured in a Shelby County Schools video about a new school budget tool.

Another Memphis high school has been added to the list of schools being investigated to determine if they made improper changes to student grades.

Adding Kingsbury High School to seven others in Shelby County Schools will further delay the report initially expected to be released in mid-June.

But from what school board Chairwoman Shante Avant has heard so far, “there haven’t been any huge irregularities.”

“Nothing has surfaced that gives me pause at this point,” Avant told Chalkbeat on Thursday.

The accounting firm Dixon Hughes Goodman is conducting the investigation.

This comes about three weeks after a former Kingsbury teacher, Alesia Harris, told school board members that Principal Terry Ross instructed someone to change 17 student exam grades to 100 percent — against her wishes.

Shelby County Schools said the allegations were “inaccurate” and that the grade changes were a mistake that was self-reported by an employee.

“The school administration immediately reported, and the central office team took the necessary actions and promptly corrected the errors,” the district said in a statement.

Chalkbeat requested a copy of the district’s own initial investigation the day after Harris spoke at the board’s June meeting, but district officials said they likely would not have a response for Chalkbeat until July 27.

Harris said that no one from Dixon Hughes Goodman has contacted her regarding the investigation as of Thursday.

The firm’s investigation initially included seven schools. Kingsbury was not among them. Those seven schools are:

  • Kirby High
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Bolton High
  • Westwood High
  • White Station High
  • Trezevant High
  • Memphis Virtual School

The firm’s first report found as many as 2,900 failing grades changed during four years at nine Memphis-area schools. At the request of the board, two schools were eliminated: one a charter managed by a nonprofit, and a school outside the district. The firm said at the time that further investigation was warranted to determine if the grade changes were legitimate.

The $145,000 investigation includes interviews with teachers and administrators, comparing teachers’ paper grade books to electronic versions, accompanying grade change forms, and inspecting policies and procedures for how school employees track and submit grades.

Since the controversy started last year, the district has restricted the number of employees authorized to make changes to a student’s report card or transcript, and also requires a monthly report from principals detailing any grade changes.

Silver Lining Playbook

Memphis’ youngest students show reading gains on 2018 state tests — and that’s a big deal

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A student works on reading comprehension skills at Lucie E Campbell Elementary School in Memphis and Shelby County Schools.

Those working to improve early literacy rates in Shelby County Schools got a small morale boost Thursday as newly released scores show the district’s elementary school students improved their reading on 2018 state tests.

The percentage of Memphis elementary-age students considered proficient in reading rose by 3 points to almost one-fourth of the district’s children in grades 3 through 5. That’s still well below the state average, and Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said “we obviously have a long way to go.”

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has overseen Tennessee’s largest public school district since 2013.

Strengthening early literacy has been a priority for the Memphis district, which views better reading skills as crucial to predicting high school graduation and career success. To that end, Shelby County Schools has expanded access to pre-K programs, adjusted reading curriculum, and made investments in literacy training for teachers.

Hopson said the payoff on this year’s TNReady scores was a jump of almost 5 percentage points in third-grade reading proficiency.

“It was about five years ago when we really, really, really started pushing pre-K, and those pre-K kids are now in the third grade. I think that’s something that’s really positive,” Hopson said of the gains, adding that third-grade reading levels are an important indicator of future school performance.

TNReady scores for Shelby County Schools, which has a high concentration of low-performing schools and students living in poverty, were a mixed bag, as they were statewide.

Math scores went up in elementary, middle, and high schools in Tennessee’s largest district. But science scores went down across the board, and the percentage of high school students who scored proficient in reading dropped by 4 percentage points.

The three charts below illustrate, by subject, the percentages of students who performed on track or better in elementary, middle, and high schools within Shelby County Schools. The blue bars reflect the district’s most recent scores, the black bars show last year’s scores, and the yellow bars depict this year’s statewide averages.

Hopson said he was unsure how much the scores of older students — all of whom tested online — were affected by technical problems that hampered Tennessee’s return this year to computerized testing.

“From what people tell me, kids either didn’t try as hard in some instances or didn’t take it seriously,” Hopson told reporters. “We’ll never know what the real impact is, but we have to accept the data that came from these tests.”

But students in two of the district’s school improvement initiatives — the Innovation Zone and the Empowerment Zone — showed progress. “We’re going to double down on these strategies,” Hopson said of the extra investments and classroom supports.

In the state-run Achievement School District, or ASD, which oversees 30 low-performing schools in Memphis, grades 3 through 8 saw an uptick in scores in both reading and math. But high schoolers scored more than 3 percentage points lower in reading and also took a step back in science.

The ASD takes over schools in the state’s bottom 5 percent and assigns them to charter operators to improve. But in the five years that the ASD has been in Memphis, its scores have been mostly stagnant.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she and new ASD Superintendent Sharon Griffin are reviewing the new data to determine next steps.

“We are seeing some encouraging momentum shifts,” McQueen said.

Chalkbeat illustrator Sam Park contributed to this story.