Are Children Learning

Indiana sees a small gain in ISTEP scores

PHOTO: Jason Seliskar via Flicker

Hoosier kids in grades 3 to 8 collectively made the smallest gain on ISTEP in five years in 2013-14, gaining just one percentage point over the prior year.

Statewide, 74.7 percent of test-takers passed both the English and math portions of ISTEP, according to data released today by the Indiana Department of Education. Find your school’s scores here.

In a statement, State Superintendent Glenda Ritz focused on the good news of another gain. Indiana students haven’t lost ground on ISTEP since 2009.

“This year, we saw yet another increase in student performance indicated through ISTEP,” she said. “These increased scores are just one sign of the great learning that is happening in Indiana Schools.”

The annual release of scores for nearly 500,000 students in the past was released in June but last year was delayed to September after problems with online exams required a review of the results. This year, there were no major problems with ISTEP online. Ritz said in a radio interview last month that a decision by Fort Wayne schools to administer the exam entirely on paper this year slowed scoring and delayed the release of results.

ISTEP is the backbone of Indiana’s school accountability system, playing central roles in A to F grades assigned to schools, expected to be out later this fall, and evaluation scores for teachers. Scores have not yet been released for high school end-of-course exams in Algebra and English.

Statewide, preliminary reading scores made a solid 1.2 percentage point gain over last year to reach 80.7 percent passing. In math, students gained a half point to 83.5 percent passing.

Carmel (93 percent), Zionsville (92.8 percent) and West Lafayette (92.1 percent) were the top three districts for percent of students passing ISTEP for the second straight year. Brownsburg (sixth best with 90.5 percent passing) was also in the top 10. All of those districts are among the state’s wealthiest communities.

On the other end of the spectrum was Indianapolis Public Schools, serving one of the poorest communities in Indiana, again ranked fourth from the bottom out of 290 school districts, tied with Medora at 51.6 percent passing. While last year the district could point to IPS as having one of the strongest gains in passing rate in the state, the news was not as good this year — a modest 0.5 percent gain.

All but 10 of the 58 IPS schools that took the test were ranked in the state’s bottom 25 percent for passing rate. Eight IPS schools were in the bottom 50 out of more than 1,800 schools that took ISTEP statewide.

But the news was not all bad for the district. Sidener Gifted Academy, an IPS magnet school for students that are identified as gifted, again was the top-rated school in the state, this time with 100 percent of its students passing ISTEP. This year two other schools joined Sidener at the top — Flaget Elementary School in Vincennes and St. Wendel School in Posey County.

Elsewhere in Marion County, Franklin Township again has the highest passing rate with 82.8 percent passing, up about one point from last year.

Wayne Township had by far the biggest ISTEP gain in the county: up 5.8 points to 64.4 percent passing. Two Wayne Township schools were ranked among the top 30 in the state for the biggest gains over last year: McClelland Elementary School (up 19 points) and North Wayne Elementary School (up 15 points).

Meanwhile, Warren Township (down 1.1 points) and Lawrence Township (down 0.4 points), were the only Marion County districts that saw their passing rates drop.

Much awaited results for four schools taken over by the state in 2012 and handed off to be run independently by charter school organizations showed some solid gains, but all four remained among the lowest-scoring schools in the state.

Seventh and eighth graders at Arlington High School, formerly of IPS, had an 11-point gain to 35.5 percent passing. Howe High School, also from IPS, gained eight points to 37.7 percent passing for its middle school students. That was the best of the group but still ranked in the bottom 1 percent of all Indiana schools.

Also in state takeover from IPS is Donnan Middle School, where scores were mostly flat at 24.9 percent passing, up 0.5 percent. Roosevelt High School, a Gary school in state takeover, gained 4.6 points to 20.3 percent passing.

Roosevelt is run by Tennessee-based Edison Learning and Arlington by Tindley Accelerated Schools of Indianapolis. Howe and Donnan are managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA. Manual High School, formerly of IPS and also run by CSUSA, only serves grades 9 to 12, so its students don’t take ISTEP. Arlington, Howe and Roosevelt serve grades 7 to 12.

This is the second year of test results for the takeover schools. Gains exceeded last year’s, which were considerably smaller at all four schools.

Arlington appears headed for an exit from state takeover after its operator, Tindley Accelerated Schools, told the Indiana State Board of Education it wanted to end its contract early because managing the school had become too costly. A committee that includes officials from IPS, Tindley, Mayor Greg Ballard’s office and the state forged a deal to keep Arlington operating under Tindley this year and is working on a transition plan for next year.

Tindley’s move raised questions about whether state takeover was working. Today’s scores were mixed as evidence for the program’s effectivenss. While the gains at some schools could be seen bolstering the argument that takeovers can make a difference, the persistently low passing rates have been cited as demonstrating the idea is ineffective.

 

 

making the rounds

Tennessee’s new education chief ‘very confident’ that online testing will be smooth in April

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee's new education commissioner Penny Schwinn (second from left) met with Douglass High School students and Shelby County Schools leaders Friday.

As Tennessee’s new education commissioner wrapped up her second week on the job by visiting four schools in Shelby County, Penny Schwinn said she feels “very confident” the state has learned from its mistakes in online testing.

During the more than three-hour ride to Memphis on Friday, Schwinn said she continued to pore over documents showing evidence that the corrections the state department staff have put in place will work.

“I feel very confident that our team has looked into that,” she told reporters in a press conference after meeting with students. “They’re working with the vendor to ensure that testing is as smooth as possible this year.” Currently the state is working with Questar, who administered TNReady online last year.

She also said the state’s request for proposals from testing vendors, which is already months behind, will be released in about two weeks.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
From left: John Bush, principal of Douglass High School; Penny Schwinn, Tennessee Education Commissioner; and Joris Ray, interim superintendent for Shelby County Schools.

“No later than that,” she said. “We hope and expect to have a vendor in place before the end of the fiscal year,” in late June.

The day Schwinn was hired, she said getting state testing right would be her first priority. Three years of major technical failures have severely damaged the trust educators and parents have in the state’s test, TNReady. It is the main measure of how schools and teachers are doing, but state lawmakers exempted districts from most testing consequences in 2018.


From Schwinn’s first day on the job: Tennessee’s new education chief wants to ‘listen and learn’ with school visits


Prior to talking with reporters, Schwinn said she heard “hard-hitting questions” from several students at Douglass High School in Memphis about what the state can do to improve education. Schwinn has said she will visit Tennessee schools throughout her tenure to ‘listen and learn’ by talking to students and educators.

Reporters were not allowed to attend the student discussion with Schwinn and some Shelby County Schools leaders.

Douglass High entered Shelby County Schools’ turnaround program, known as the iZone, in 2016 and saw high academic growth in its first year. But test scores fell this past year as the state wrestled with online malfunctions.

Timmy Becton Jr., a senior at Douglass High, said he hopes for fewer tests and more projects to demonstrate what a student has learned. Those kind of assessments, he said, can help a student connect what they are learning to their daily life.

PHOTO: Shelby County Schools
Tennessee’s new education commissioner met with students at Douglass High School and Shelby County Schools leaders.

“We figured it would be a different way to measure and see how much knowledge a student really has on a specific subject,” he told Chalkbeat after meeting with Schwinn during a student roundtable session. “It’s a good alternative to taking tests.”

He said he was “surprised and happy” to see Schwinn actively seek student perspectives.

“I really think that’s the most important part because students are the ones going to school every day,” Becton said. “So, if you want to find a good perspective on how to solve a problem, it’s really great to talk to the people who are actively involved in it and the people who are actually experiencing these problems directly.”

The state’s annual testing window runs from April 15 to May 3.

School discipline

Michigan schools have expelled fewer students, but that may not be cause for celebration

PHOTO: Getty Images

Michigan schools have expelled far fewer students since the state enacted laws aimed at cutting back on expulsions. But an advocate who’s pushed for an end to zero-tolerance policies pointed out persistent problems and told elected state education leaders this week that, “We shouldn’t start celebrating yet.”

This is why: Peri Stone-Palmquist, executive director of the Ypsilanti-based Student Advocacy Center, told State Board of Education members that in the 18 months since the new laws took effect in 2017, expulsions have dropped 12 percent. But she’s concerned that too many school leaders don’t understand the law or are ignoring its requirements. And she believes some schools are finding other ways of kicking kids out of school without expelling them.

Michigan did away with zero-tolerance policies that had earned it a reputation for having some of the toughest disciplinary rules in the nation. In their place, lawmakers instituted new rules, such as requiring schools to consider seven factors — including a student’s age, disciplinary record, disability and seriousness of the incident — in making expulsion decisions.

“We have had districts and charters tell advocates that they would not consider the seven factors at all,” Stone-Palmquist said. Others aren’t sharing with parents and students how those seven factors were used. And she said there’s a general “lack of understanding of lesser interventions and the persistent belief that lengthy removals remain necessary.”

That’s a problem, she and others say, because of the negative consequences of kicking students out of school. Studies have shown that students kicked out of school are often missing out on an education and are more likely to get into trouble. Advocates also worry that expulsion exacerbates what they describe as a “school-to-prison” pipeline.

She said advocates are noticing that more students are receiving long suspensions, an indication that some schools are suspending students rather than expelling them. Hiding students in suspension data won’t work much longer, though. Michigan now requires schools to collect such data, which soon will be public.

Stone-Palmquist also said that some schools aren’t even going through the expulsion process, but simply referring students with discipline issues to “understaffed virtual settings.”

“Once again, the students who need the most get the least, and no one has to report it as an expulsion.”

Stone-Palmquist gave an example of a ninth-grader involved in a verbal altercation who was expelled for a long time for persistent disobedience, “despite our team lining up extensive community resources for him and despite the district never trying positive interventions with him.”

In another case, a fifth-grader was expelled for 180 days for spitting at another student who had done the same to them first. Stone-Palmquist said the seven factors weren’t considered.

“We were told at the appeal hearing that the student’s behaviors were too dangerous to consider lesser interventions.”

She and Kristin Totten, an education lawyer for the ACLU of Michigan, provided board members with statistics that some members found alarming. Totten noted that an ACLU review of data collected by the federal government shows that for every 100 students in Michigan, 38 days are lost due to suspension. In Oakland County, 26 days are lost for every 100 students. In Macomb County, it’s 35 days and in Wayne County, it’s 55 days.

One child who’s experienced trauma for years was repeatedly suspended from multiple schools. The 11-year-old has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This school year, she’s been suspended for 94 days.

“Never once were the seven factors mentioned to her mother,” Totten said.

Stone-Palmquist asked board members to consider recommendations, including developing a model student code of conduct that incorporates the new rules, partnering with the advocacy center to request an attorney general’s opinion on what districts are required to do, and expanding data collection.

Tom McMillin, a member of the state board, asked whether the state should consider financial penalties, such as withholding some state aid.

“I’m a fierce advocate for local control. But in areas where the incentives might not be there to do what’s right … I’m fine with the state stepping in,” McMillin said.

Board member Pamela Pugh said she appreciated the push for the board to “move with great speed.” She said the data and stories provided are “compelling, as well as convincing.”

Stone-Palmquist said that despite her concerns, there have been some successes.

“Districts that used to automatically expel 180 days for fights, for instance, have partnered with us to dramatically reduce those removals with great outcomes,” she said. “We know alternatives are possible and that they actually help get to the root of the problem, prevent future wrongdoing and repair the harm.”

The Detroit school district didn’t come up during the hearing. But on the same day Stone-Palmquist presented to the state board, Detroit Superintendent Nikolai Vitti gave a presentation to his local board of education about what’s happened in the months since the district embarked on an effort to improve school culture by revising the student code of conduct, hiring deans for each school, and providing training on alternative discipline methods.

The bottom line: Vitti said that schools are booting out dramatically fewer students and greatly increasing alternative methods of discipline. In-school suspensions are up, given the push against out-of-school suspensions.

But the changes have also raised concerns. Some school staff have said the new rules are tying their hands. Vitti said it will take time for the changes to take hold, and he outlined some areas that need to improve, including more training.