Middle schools at center of IPS testing woes

Harshman Middle School, with six straight years of gains for its students passing ISTEP, has been a signature success story for Indianapolis Public Schools. But with this years scores, it’s an example of something else: the troubled state of the district’s middle schools.

For IPS, the annual release of ISTEP scores coincided with the first day of school, and the results prompted something of a reckoning of the state of the district’s offerings, both good and bad.

On the good end was Sidener Gifted Academy, a magnet school for gifted children that earned perfect scores for its students passing ISTEP. School 84 also had one of the state’s top passing rates, and three others — Cold Spring School, School 51 and School 70 — had gains of 10 percentage points or more.

Still, 48 of 58 IPS schools that took ISTEP ranked in the bottom quarter of all schools in the state. Just three IPS schools were in the top quarter. And the district’s overall passing rate grew by just 0.5 points, much lower than last year’s 2.5-point growth.

“We did show some gains, slightly, however, there is lots of work still to be done,” Superintendent Lewis Ferebee said. “I’m excited about some of our schools that have made tremendous strides.”

Perhaps no group of students performed more dismally than those who attend middle schools at one of seven IPS high schools that serve grades 6 to 12 or 7 to 12.

Four of those saw their passing rates drop by four points or more, prompting Ferebee to say an idea he suggested earlier this year — changing how middle school children are housed in IPS by potentially removing them from combined high schools — should continue to be considered.

“We are concerned about our middle schools just like we are concerned about a number of other grade levels where we did not see the performance we’d like to have,” Ferebee said. “As we look at our entire portfolio of schools, we’ll look at which models are more effective.”

Harshman’s first test score setback in more than half a decade was a big one. It went down nine points to 63.9 percent passing English and math. But the magnet school for science, technology, engineering and math still had by far the highest passing rate of any district middle school despite the big step backward.

The second best scoring middle school, Shortridge High School’s seventh and eighth graders,, also had a major drop, down 5 points to 55.9 percent passing.

In fact, scores also fell 12 points at Broad Ripple High School (44.1 percent), nine points at Crispus Attucks High School (44.5 percent), six points at George Washington High School (18.2 percent), four points at John Marshall High School (14.8 percent passing) two points at Northwest High School (21.3 percent) and 0.3 points at Longfellow Middle School (40.5 percent).

The only secondary school with gains at 7th and 8th grades was Key Learning Community (up 5 points to 35 percent).

The middle school scores at four of those nine IPS schools ranked among the bottom 50 schools in the state out of more than 1,800 that took ISTEP. That’s the bottom 0.2 percent of all Indiana schools.

The district has already made one middle school move. This year it combined the students from Longfellow into Harshman and is renting out the Longfellow building to the KIPP charter school. At the same time, Harshman’s highly regarded principal and assistant principal left for other jobs.

“We’ve got a pretty heavy discussion this school year with our collapse of Longfellow into Harshman,” Ferebee said. “That’s really our first move toward a different middle school model. It will be interesting to see how the school year flows and the different kinds of outcomes there.”

The school will remain a math and science magnet, but will be more traditional in design, he said. Since IPS lost Emma Donnan Middle School to a state takeover in 2012 — state officials handed it over to be run by a charter school company after six years of F grades for low test scores — Harshman is now the district’s only school just for grades 7 and 8.

Ferebee said earlier this year he might prefer to see middle school students served in elementary schools for grades K to 8.

“Over the last couple of years, our middle school students in our K-8 schools are performing better than our middle grades that are associated with our 6-12 secondary model” Ferbee said today. “That’s something that we’re looking at.”

Other stories from the district’s ISTEP results:

IPS had two schools ranked among the top 25 in the state.

Besides Sidener Gifted Academy, which again ranked No. 1 and this time had 100 percent passing, School 84 ranked 22nd best with 96.3 percent passing. School 84 is one of three Center for Inquiry schools in IPS, which follow an internationally-focused, project-based curriculum.
Only four other Indianapolis-area schools ranked in the top 25 in the state: Hasten Hebrew Academy of Indianapolis (98.2 percent), St. Louis De Montfort Catholic School in Fishers (98 percent), Carmel’s Smokey Row Elementary School (96.8 percent) and Zionsville’s Pleasant View Elementary School (96.1 percent).

But it had more schools scoring near the bottom.

Five IPS schools, however, had deeply troubling results, ranking among the 25 worst scoring schools in Indiana.

John Marshall High School saw just 14.8 percent of its seventh and eighth graders pass the test, 10th worst in the state. The school was joined by School 103 (15.3 percent), George Washington High School’s middle school grades (18.2 percent), Northwest High School’s middle school grades (21.3 percent) and School 107 (27.3 percent) at the very bottom.

A few schools made big gains, more saw big declines.

Some IPS schools are gaining ground quickly. Three schools — Cold Spring School, School 51 and School 70 — gained at least 10 points over last year. Seven others gained at least five points.

Others slipped dramatically from last year, including School 107 (down 16 points), School 67 (down 12 points) and one of last year’s success stories, Key Learning Community’s elementary school (down 10 points).

Key, a K-12 school which pioneered project-based learning in the late 1980s, jumped 20 points last year, the biggest gain in the district. But this year it lost about half that gain, falling to 46.7 percent passing.

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