Charter schools were designed to be a better alternative to low-scoring traditional public schools, especially in cities like Indianapolis where many children must overcome barriers to learning.
But of the 18 charter schools operating this year in the city that took ISTEP last year, about half fell below the Indianapolis Public Schools districtwide average of 51.6 percent passing.
Those nine charter schools, where only about half the students, or fewer, passed ISTEP in 2014, have one thing in common: they serve more poor children than the average IPS school. Some of them are focused on students with special needs that can make it harder to earn a passing score on the state test, such as large numbers of children who are learning English as a new language or in special education.
But several of charter schools below the district average have what sometimes can be considered an advantage: they have been around for several years and are connected to national networks of schools.
Chalkbeat is publishing short profiles of the top-scoring and lowest-scoring Marion County schools on ISTEP for three types of schools — Indianapolis Public Schools, township schools and charter schools. Check out our past stories on the top-rated IPS schools, lowest-scoring IPS schools and the top-scoring charter schools.
(ISTEP scores and grades for the 2014-15 school year are not expected to be released until late this year or early next year.)
While seven of the top nine Indianapolis charter schools for ISTEP scores are homegrown charter schools, the story is different for the nine schools that rank below the IPS average. For those schools, seven of nine are part of national networks. Just two are locally run charter schools.
Charter schools are free public schools run independently from school districts. Each has a local governing board that decides who will manage the school. Those boards report to a sponsor, also sometimes called an authorizer. In Indiana, the legislature has given the state charter board, universities, school districts and the Indianapolis mayor the authority to be sponsors. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office sponsors most of the city’s charter schools.
Sponsors have the authority to decide when charter schools can open, monitor their progress toward and hold them accountable for their performance, which can include shutting them down.
Many charter schools focus on students who come to school with barriers to learning. For example, several have large numbers of students that come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. To do so, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually. Some have large numbers of students in special education or who are learning English as a new language, two challenges that can make it harder for a school to earn a high passing rate.
Here’s a look at the lowest-scoring Indianapolis charter schools:
Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School
A K-12 school located on the city’s southeast side, Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School’s scores were on the rise for six years until the school absorbed students when its sister school, Monument Lighthouse, closed in 2013.
The school’s enrollment jumped by more than 300 students to 1,016 in grades K-12. Since the merger, test progress has slowed.
About half the school passed ISTEP in 2014, 49.7 percent, down for the second straight year from the 2012 high of 52.8 percent. As a result, the school was rated a D in 2014, down from a C the year before. As recently as 2011 it had been rated an A.
Even though the school’s ISTEP decline has been slight, the passing rate is low, failing to outdo the IPS average of 51.6 percent. Lighthouse has since opened a second school, Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School East. The schools are among the few Indianapolis charter schools run by out-of-state companies. The Massachusetts-based Lighthouse Academies network has schools in eight states. The school is sponsored by the Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.
About 85 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 72 percent are black, 15 percent white and 9 percent Hispanic. Roughly 3 percent are English-language learners and 12 percent are in special education.
Andrew J. Brown Academy
With a 49.6 percent passing rate on ISTEP in 2014, Andew J. Brown Academy has seen three straight years of falling scores, down from 64 percent passing in 2011.
Located on the East side, the school’s grade has seen a corresponding decline. It was rated an F just four years after it was rated an A in 2011.
The school, serving 645 students in grades K-8, is run by Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, one of the largest charter school management companies in the country. The school is sponsored by Ballard’s office.
Andrew J. Brown Academy services a high-poverty population, with 94 percent of its students coming from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 61 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic and 2 percent white.
A large number of students at the school are learning English as a new language at nearly 28 percent. About 10 percent are in special education.
Indiana Math and Science Academy
The first of what is now a network of three Indiana Math and Science Academies has struggled the past two years, with 41.4 percent passing ISTEP in 2014, up slightly from the prior year.
But before 2013, the school had seen five straight years of test score gains.
Run by Illinois-based Concept Schools, it earned a C in 2014, up from an F, but well below the A it earned in 2011. The school is sponsored by Ballard’s office.
Located southeast of downtown, the school serves about 560 students in grades K-12. About 79 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.
About 64 percent of the school’s students are black, 27 percent are Hispanic and 5 percent are white. A large number of the school’s students are learning English as a new language at 22 percent. About 11 percent are in special education.
KIPP Indianapolis College Preparatory Academy
KIPP, a middle school for about 345 students in grades 5-8, has had its ups and downs when it comes to passing ISTEP. Lately, it’s been back down.
About 47.9 percent passed ISTEP in 2014, down for the second straight year and dropping the school to a D. The school’s passing rate has been on a roller coaster. Between 2007 and 2009, scores dropped to a low of 31 percent passing. Then scores jumped for three straight years to 60 percent passing in 2012, earning an A, before falling again.
The school is affiliated with the well-regarded New York-based national KIPP charter school network. It moved last year to a new building, the former IPS School 110, and started a separate elementary school, KIPP Unite, in the same building. The school is sponsored by Ballard’s office.
The school is very racially isolated — 95 percent of students are black. About 83 percent of the school’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Less than 1 percent are English-language learners and about 19 percent are in special education.
Tindley Renaissance Academy
Now in its third year, Tindley Renaissance is the first elementary school that is part of the Tindley Accelerated Schools network.
But 2014 was the first year the school took ISTEP, and its passing rate was far below that of other schools that are part of the Tindley network at 44.3 percent.
The school, with about 500 students in grades K-4, is located in the same neighborhood as the other Tindley schools on the city’s northeast side. The school is sponsored by Ballard’s office.
Like other Tindley schools, Tindley Renaissance is very racially isolated, with 93 percent black students, and serves mostly low income enrollment in which about 70 percent of students comes from a family that is poor enough to qualify for free lunch.
The school has no English-language learners, and about 10 percent of its students are in special education.
Imagine Life Science Academy West
Imagine Life Science Academy West is the last remaining Indiana charter school run by Imagine Schools, a Virginia-based charter school management company.
A second Indianapolis school closed, and two in Fort Wayne converted to private schools after their charters were not renewed. The company just converted from a for-profit company to a nonprofit organization. The school is sponsored by Trine University.
Imagine West has been a long time low performing when it comes to passing ISTEP. Just 41.4 percent passed in 2014 and the school has never seen more than half its students pass. The school was rated an F, down from a D the prior year.
Imagine West is a large school serving about 590 students in grades K-8. It sits next door to IPS School 79, which has been rated an A for four straight years, on the city’s northwest side.
About 82 percent of its students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 65 percent black, 30 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white.
A large number of students are English-language learners at about 24 percent, and 14 percent are in special education.
Indiana Math and Science Academy South
The newest sister school of Indiana Math and Science Academies network struggled in its first year, with 41.4 percent passing ISTEP in 2014.
Also run by Illinois-based Concept Schools and sponsored by Mayor Greg Ballard’s office, it earned a D on its first report card.
Located southeast of downtown, the school serves about 285 students in grades K-8. It serves a high-poverty population, with about 95 percent of its students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch.
About 66 percent of the school’s students are black, 18 percent are white and 7 percent are Hispanic.
Very few of the school’s students are learning English as a new language at less than 1 percent. About 15 percent are in special education.
Located in an IPS-owned building on the city’s northwest side, Enlace serves a student body that includes a huge number of English-language learners at 57 percent of the school.
When it reported ISTEP scores for the first time in 2014, its passing rate was a very low 28.6 percent. Enlace has not yet earned a grade from the state. (For more on the school read this story from WFYI’s Eric Weddle that was part of a joint project with Chalkbeat.)
The school’s goal is to use technology and follow a blended learning approach similar to that of Carpe Diem. Students split their learning time between computer-led lessons and instruction from a teacher.
With about 202 students in grades K-5, the school serves a high-poverty population, with about 98 percent of students qualifying for free-or reduced price lunch.
The school is about 70 percent Hispanic, 27 percent black and 3 percent white. About 9 percent are in special education.
The locally run school is sponsored by Ballard’s office.
Damar Charter Academy
Damar Charter Academy is unique in that it enrolls almost exclusively students who need special education services. It is affiliated with Damar Services Inc., a local organization that helps children and adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and behavioral challenges to live more independent lives.
The school was founded in 2011 to provide a school for children with those sorts of challenges. Very few of the students qualify to take ISTEP. Others take alternative tests crafted to better fit their needs.
Of those who do take ISTEP, few pass — just 10 percent in 2014. The school is sponsored by the Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s office.
Damar is a small school of about 160 students in grades K-12 located on the city’s southwest side. About 81 percent come from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
The school is about 69 percent white, 23 percent black and 2 percent Hispanic. Less than 1 percent are English-language learners. More than 96 percent are in special education.