Taking over in September as superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools presented Lewis Ferebee with a daunting question: where to begin?
Two thirds of the schools were rated a D or F last year by the Indiana Department of Education.
IPS has many needs and lots of schools that Ferebee hopes to turn around. In fact, 38 of the district’s 65 schools are getting at least some level of extra scrutiny from Ferebee and his administrative team as part of their school improvement effort.
Even so, 11 IPS are on red alert, having been named “priority” schools because Ferebee considers them the most troubled. This is where the district is focusing its heaviest attention.
Big changes at the schools already have begun. Several of the 23 IPS administrators whose contracts were not renewed by the school board Tuesday were principals or assistant principals at priority schools.
All of the priority schools were rated an F by the state the past two years. But more concerning to Ferebee is that all of them saw low growth, no growth or even falling test scores. Each has also been identified by the Indiana Department of Education as in need of additional support.
Ferebee came to Indianapolis with a reputation as a school turnaround specialist. In his prior work in Greensboro and Durham, N.C., he has success grouping low performing schools under teams of administrators he led with a goal of raising test scores.
He is taking a similar approach in Indiana.
“We do have schools that have not performed well over an extended period of time we need to improve student outcomes there, he said. “I believe this approach will yield positive results for all our schools and students.”
Students at priority schools are regularly tested during the school year to assess progress and central office administrators are spending more time on those campuses. In March, the IPS school board will hear a report on the progress of the schools.
The 11 priority schools have a few common themes.
Most are neighborhood schools rather than magnet schools, which generally perform better in IPS. Two of them are the junior high school portion of combined junior-senior high schools. Ferebee last week spoke of his concern about grouping middle school age students with high school students and said the district would be examining its grade configurations.
Some of the elementary schools on the list were once good performers that have seen their test scores slide. A few have been long term low performers. Here’s a look:
John Marshall Junior High School
In 2012, the state reclassified IPS 6 to 12 and 7 to 12 high schools to separate middle and high school students. So each of those schools now receives two grades — one for high school students in grades 9 to 12 and one for middle school students.
The 7th and 8th grade students at John Marshall have earned consecutive F grades from the state since that shift, based on its very low test scores. More troubling is the trend line. Last year, just 18 percent of middle school students passed both English and math on ISTEP, a drop from 22 percent the prior year.
Northwest Junior High School
As with John Marshall, Northwest’s High School’s middle school classes collectively were rated an F the past two years. Its passing rate on ISTEP trended slightly up, to 23 percent passing from 18 percent the prior year, but those rates are very low.
Also called Washington Irving Elementary School, School 14 has seen a steady slide in its test performance over the past decade. A neighborhood school located just east of downtown, it was rated an A in 2005. It’s been rated a C three times in the past seven years, but it’s recent scores have been poor.
The school was rated an F the past two years and its passing rate on ISTEP is in a four-year decline. In fact, its 41 percent passing rate last year was School 14’s lowest in eight years.
Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, School 42 is a neighborhood school on Indianapolis’ North side. It was mostly a C school that fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there. The school’s 42 percent ISTEP passing rate has barely budged in the past eight years. Its highest rate was 45 percent passing in 2007 and lowest was 33 percent passing in 2009.
Also called Riverside Elementary School, School 44 is a neighborhood school located less than a mile from School 42 on the city’s North side. The school has not seen a grade above a D since 2005. Test scores at the school made a big drop from an already low 37 percent passing in 2011 to 25 percent last year.
Also called James Russell Lowell Elementary School, School 51 is a neighborhood school on the city’s Northeast side. It was an A school in 2007 and was mostly rated a C before it dropped to an F in 2012. School 51’s ISTEP passing rate of 32 percent has been mostly flat for eight years, with high of 35 percent passing in 2012 and a low of 27 percent in 2008.
Also called Ralph Waldo Emerson Elementary School, this neighborhood school on the city’s East side was earning decent grades for several years, including an A in 2010. But it has had three consecutive F grades since then. Its 44 percent ISTEP passing rate is well below the school’s 2008 high of 60 percent passing.
Also called Clarence Farrington Elementary School, School 61 is a neighborhood school located on the Northwest side of the city. This school’s grade has been in a steady decline. It dropped from an A in 2007 to a pair of C’s and then a D in 2011. The school has been rated an F since then.
The percent of students passing ISTEP at School 61 has hovered around 40 percent passing for eight years, with a low of 34 percent in 2008 and a high of 46 percent in 2009. Last year 42 percent passed ISTEP.
Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, it was an A in 2010 but has earned three straight F’s since then. The school made a good jump in test scores last year, to 30 percent passing ISTEP from 18 percent the year before, but it remains one of the district’s lowest performers. The school has not exceeded 35 percent passing ISTEP in six years.
Also called George H. Fisher Elementary School, School 93 is another school that has seen a reversal of fortune. Located on Indianapolis’ Northeast side, School 93 had two A’s and a B between 2005 and 2009. But since then, it has earned three consecutive F’s. Just 30 percent of School 93’s students passed ISTEP last year, down dramatically from 53 percent passing in 2008.
Also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, School 103 has been a long time poor performer on state tests. Located on the city’s Northeast side, School 103 has earned a D or F six of the last eight years and an F for the past three years. Its grade has never been higher than a C in that period. More alarming, its ISTEP passing rate has been trending down for six years to 22 percent passing last year from 47 percent in 2009.