Indiana

More Indianapolis charter schools ranked high on the 2015 state exam

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Leaders from five proposed schools received fellowships to plan and launch the schools from the Mind Trust today.

There’s no denying that the state ISTEP exam was tougher last year, causing scores to fall for nearly all schools statewide, but there’s evidence that charter schools did a little better than most in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis private schools, meanwhile, saw their rankings compared to other schools in the state dip with a few notable exceptions.

Changes to the test, and lower scores across the board, make it difficult to compare 2015 scores with prior years but, in looking for a way to get a sense of how Indianapolis schools measured up to their peers across the state, Chalkbeat compared the list of schools that ranked in the top half of all Indiana schools in 2015 and 2014.

Ranking the schools from the highest passing rate to the lowest for both years, Chalkbeat identified schools that climbed up the rankings — and those that dropped.

Charter schools in the city, it turned out, saw their rankings go up while Indianapolis Public Schools landed a little lower on the list.

“It puts a smile on my face to see those things,” said Ahmed Young, Mayor Joe Hogsett’s education director who oversees more than 25 city-sponsored charter schools.

But Young says he doesn’t put much stock in comparisons between school types.

“I often think about the rest of our kids and how we can provide resources to all of our schools regardless of label to make sure they get a well rounded education.”

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In general, schools in Marion County compare poorly against the rest of the state. Countywide, just 28 percent of schools ranked in the top half of the state for ISTEP passing rates in 2015.

It’s not entirely a surprise, given the strong connection between family wealth and student test scores, that schools in Marion County generally do not rank among the state’s best on ISTEP. Many studies over years of research have shown that a student’s family income has a strong influence on test scores.

Within Indianapolis, schools in the city’s urban core lagged behind the county as whole in the Chalkbeat analysis but charter schools showed solid improvement. About 12 percent of charter schools in the city ranked in the top half of the state, up from 8 percent the year before.

That’s compared to the state’s largest district, Indianapolis Public Schools, which saw fewer of its schools ranked in the top half of the state at 6.7 percent, down about 7 percentage points from 2014.

IPS spokeswoman Kristin Cutler, said in a statement that the district doesn’t trust the 2015 ISTEP data to truly reflect student performance. ISTEP results were delayed for months by administrative and scoring glitches.

Cutler’s statement said the district’s 2015 scores “may be misleading” and cited problems such as test results that came back to the district listed as “undetermined” as well as some double scores in its raw data. As a result, IPS is looking at other measures of student academic success.

“In a turbulent year for standardized assessments, IPS does not believe our results are indicative of the hard work and growth of our students and educators,” the statement said in part. “Our district utilizes formative assessments to set yearly benchmarks and monitor progress regarding student achievement.”

Young said he also is focused on a spectrum of student academic results, not just standardized tests, and schools of all types in Indianapolis, not just city-sponsored charter schools.

“I look at ISTEP as only one portion of our accountability,” he said “It’s great to see positive results for our schools but it’s only one indicator. I also think about how IPS and township schools are faring. It’s not a zero sum game. Comparisons are necessary at times but we want each and every school in Marion County to exceed expectations.”

The Oaks Academy schools shine

Private schools in Indianapolis — by far the best performing type of school on ISTEP for several years running — also saw their rankings slip almost as much as IPS. In 2015, about 58.5 percent of the city’s 41 private schools that took ISTEP ranked in the top half for passing rate among more than 1,800 public and private schools statewide. That’s down 5.5 percentage points from 2014.

Private schools statewide actually saw a slightly bigger drop in the rankings, falling 6.5 percentage points to 62 percent ranked in the top half in the state.

Bucking that trend in Indianapolis is the Oaks Academy. The three-campus private school collectively ranked No. 1 in the state when compared against school districts, charter school networks and other private school organizations.

That means the 660 Oaks Academy students had a higher passing rate on ISTEP than Carmel, Zionsville and other traditional top scorers.

And Oaks Academy serves a higher percentage of poor children than many private schools, said Andrew Hart, CEO of the organization that runs the three schools.

The schools, which are faith-based but not affiliated with a particular church, purposefully balance their classes to insure students reflect racial and income diversity, Hart said. Roughly half the students come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and student enrollment in each school is roughly 50 percent white, 30-40 percent black and 10-20 percent Latino, multi-racial or Asian. To qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a family of four can make no more than $43,500 annually.

The big keys to their success, Hart said, are the cultural benefits of racial and economic balance and very high retention rates for students and teachers.

“Almost all of our families enroll when they are in pre-K or Kindergarten,” he said. “Our student retention is in the high 90th percentile year to year. They come in pre-K and they stay. That allows us to invest in them in a very aligned systematic way in their education.”

A diverse school, he said, plays a big role as students learn from each other.

“That creates an incredible environment for learning,” Hart said.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.