A-F grades bring milestones for IPS, state takeover

Seemingly small steps up the state’s A to F grading scale last week for Indianapolis Public Schools, and one if its former schools now run independently, turned out to be kind of a big deal.

For both the district and for Manual High School, seemingly modest grade improvements actually represent a pair of firsts.

IPS, long one of the state’s consistently lowest-performing districts when it comes to passing state tests, saw its A to F accountability grade upgraded to a D for 2014 for the first time in four years. The district received an F or its equivalent every year since 2010, when district letter grading began.

Manual also earned a D, marking the first time a school in state takeover has improved above an F.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee was optimistic, but cautious, about what the improved grade meant for the district.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and there’s a lot more to do in our district,” he said. “So this is an opportunity to give (students) that momentum and continue to stay focused on our service and also improving student outcomes.”

At Charter Schools USA, the Florida-based company that now manages Manual, Chief Academic Officer Sherry Hage said she hoped shaking off an F rating after two years of state takeover would help propel the school to even better results.

“This year, as we continue to look forward, we really believe, and we talk a lot to our staff members, about how success breeds success,” Hage said.

In IPS, a third of schools improved by one or more grades over last year, according to information from the district. Ferebee said the state’s system still is too focused on how many students pass state tests, rather than how much students improved over the prior year.

“I’ve been very clear on my stance with the letter grades since my time here in Indianapolis Public Schools,” Ferebee said. “I believe a model that has more emphasis on growth versus proficiency is the fairest way to evaluate schools and their progress.”

Ferebee  said more central office support for 11 district “priority schools,” those with consecutive F grades or falling test scores, might have helped raise the district’s grade.

Ferebee asked central office administrators to monitor those schools closely, institute frequent testing to gauge if students were making progress and replaced most of the principals. For new principals at priority schools, he also offered extra pay.

Overall, the schools made progress. More than half of them made gains on ISTEP over this past year and four of the 11 received higher grades. Leading the way with a C was School 58. Earning a D were School 14, School 51 and  School 61.

Manual was one of four IPS schools that was severed from district control after six straight years of F grades in 2012 and handed off by the state to be run independently by charter school groups. The others were Arlington and Howe high schools and Donnan Middle School.

In 2013, all of the takeover schools earned another F, with few showing much test score gain. This year Manual was the first of that group to move up to a D.

Hage said there were several strategies she thought help the school improve on tests.

A credit recovery system allows students who have fallen behind to catch up on classes online, which helps students who might otherwise become discouraged as well as those who have jobs to help support their families or need flexible schedules. Manual students also have access to tutoring throughout the day and on the weekends, Hage said.

In the two years since CSUSA has been at Manual,  she said, the company has worked to build back up the school’s extracurriculuar programs so students have a way to participate at school and have things to look forward to, such as Homecoming and football. It has tried to build a more positive school culture, she said.

School district grades factor in the performance of all schools in the district to try to give an overall sense of how students perform. Use our search tools to find A to F grades for your school district or your school.