Are Children Learning

Top scoring township and small city schools tend to serve wealthier children

Only three of the top 10 Marion County township and small city schools when it came to passing ISTEP in 2013-14 served a large share of high-poverty students.

It’s well known that there is a strong correlation between the family wealth of students who attend a school and the percentage of kids who pass standardized tests. Many studies have estimated between 60 and 70 percent of student’s score might be related to family income. But that effect is seen most strongly among the top scoring Marion County township and small city schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.

(ISTEP scores and grades for the 2014-15 school year are not expected to be released until late this year or early next year.)

Chalkbeat is publishing short profiles of the top-scoring, and lowest-scoring, Marion County public schools on ISTEP for three types of schools — Indianapolis Public Schools, charter schools and township and small city schools. Check out our past stories on the top-rated IPS schools, lowest-scoring IPS schools, the top-rated charter schools and lowest-scoring charter schools. Next week we’ll publish our final story in this series looking at the lowest-rated township and small city schools.

The merged city of Indianapolis and Marion County includes 11 separate school districts — Indianapolis Public Schools, nine township school districts and the small cities of Speedway and Beech Grove. Additionally, 18 charter schools operating in the city this year reported ISTEP scores in 2013-14.

Excluding IPS and charter schools, five of the top six public schools for passing ISTEP in Marion County, and seven of the top 10, were roughly at the state average of 49 percent or had a smaller share of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the most common poverty measure for schools. To qualify, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

Not coincidentally, the list of top-scoring township and small city schools includes five from Franklin Township, which is easily the wealthiest school district in Marion County.

By comparison, seven of the 10 top-scoring IPS schools on ISTEP exceeded the state average of 49 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch. All of the top 10 charter schools had at least half their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

However, few of the IPS and charter schools had high enough passing rates to compete with the best-scoring township and small city schools. Only three IPS magnet schools would rank among the county’s top 10. Sidener Gifted Academy, which had the state’s top passing rate on ISTEP in 2013-14 at 100 percent, would obviously also be No.1 in Marion County. It would be joined by the Center For Inquiry School 84 and School 74, a Spanish-language immersion school.

Here’s a look at the county’s top 10 township and small city schools for passing ISTEP in 2013-14, plus the top-scoring schools for four townships that were not represented in the top 10:

Bunker Hill Elementary School

For the second year in a row, Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School ranked best in the county despite a slight dip from last year’s ISTEP passing rate of 91.2 percent. The small slide stopped a four-year upward trend in ISTEP scores since the school made a 17-point gain in 2010. It has maintained very strong test performance ever since. The school has been rated an A for five straight years.

Franklin Township's Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.
PHOTO: BobCatBeat.Net (John Overton High School)
Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.

In 2013-14, 90.2 percent of students passed ISTEP, ranking in the top 10 percent in the state, 16 percentage points above the state average of 74 percent passing.

The school is mostly below state averages for the percentage of children enrolled who have challenges that are often barriers to learning. About 34 percent of its enrollment comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The state average is 49 percent.

About 13 percent are in special education, and 6 percent are English-language learners. The state averages are 15 percent and 5 percent.

Bunker Hill is a large school with 576 students in grades K-5. About 75 percent are white, 6 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

Amy Beverland Elementary School

This Lawrence Township school, located near the Geist Reservoir, made a big leap in 2011 — a 20-point gain on ISTEP — that it has maintained and improved on over the past four years until it reached the top of the heap among Marion County schools this year, tied with last year’s No. 1 school Bunker Hill with 90.2 percent passing.

Four years of improved ISTEP scores helped Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township equal the county's top passing rate in 2013-14.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Four years of improved ISTEP scores helped Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township equal the county’s top passing rate in 2013-14.

Amy Beverland Elementary School has been rated an A for three straight years since it jumped up from a C in 2011. The school has been above 85 percent passing for four years, an impressively high level of maintained performance. It’s prior high was 74 percent in 2008.

The school has very few children with challenges that are often barriers to learning. Only 21 percent of its enrollment comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Only 10 percent are in special education, and 3 percent are English-language learners, both below the state averages.

Amy Beverland is a very large school with about 760 students in grades 1-6. About 62 percent of the school’s students are white, 22 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic.

South Creek Elementary School

Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been a high-scoring, A-rated school for more than five years.

Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been rated an A for more than five years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been rated an A for more than five years.

Its 90.1 percent ISTEP passing rate was up slightly over the prior year’s 88.8 percent passing.

The school, serving 695 students in grades K-5, has had a passing rate better than 84 percent for five straight years.

Very few poor children attend South Creek compared to the average Indiana school. Just 19 percent of its students come from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 15 percent of its students are in special education, just above the state average, and 5 percent are English-language learners, which equaled the state average.

About 83 percent of the school’s students are white, 4 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

Mary Adams Elementary School

Mary Adams Elementary School in Franklin Township has been a high-scorer on ISTEP, making consistent gains for several years.

Several years of improving ISTEP scores helped Franklin Township's Mary Adams Elementary School crack the county's top 10.
Several years of improving ISTEP scores helped Franklin Township’s Mary Adams Elementary School crack the county’s top 10.

The school has seen five straight years of ISTEP scores that topped the prior year, and a corresponding 5 straight A-grades. Its 88.7 percent passing rate in 2013-14 was its highest rate in a decade, up almost 20 points from 69 percent passing in 2008.

About 38 percent of students at Mary Adams come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, below the state average.

It also has fewer children than the state average in special education and learning English as a new language at 12 and 4 percent respectively.

About 515 students in grade K-5 attend Mary Adams. About 81 percent are white, 4 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black.

James Allison Elementary School

This school in Speedway is the smallest in the top 10 with just 280 students in grades K-6, but it has been posting big gains.

James Allison Elementary School in Speedway has seen big gains on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
James Allison Elementary School in Speedway has seen big gains on ISTEP.

James Allison Elementary School has been rated an A for five straight years, but the past three have seen dramatic improvements on ISTEP. The school has made big gains in that time, with its passing rate up 18 percentage points from 70 percent in 2011.

James Allison serves by far the largest percentage of poor children of any school in the top 10 — about 80 percent of the students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school also is very diverse. About 36 percent of students are white, 32 percent are black and 18 percent are Hispanic.

It has a large number of children who are learning English as a new language at 22 percent. About 11 percent are in special education.

Robey Elementary School

Wayne Township’s Robey Elementary School is the largest school in the top 10 with 865 students in grades K-6. The school has seen a remarkably steady rise to an A-grade the last three years, up from a D in 2010.

Improved test scores at Wayne Township's Robey Elementary School helped raise its grade to an A from a D in 2010.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Improved test scores at Wayne Township’s Robey Elementary School helped raise its grade to an A from a D in 2010.

The school has seen five straight years of ISTEP gains to 86.9 percent passing in 2013-14, a jump of 19 percentage points from 66 percent in 2010.

Robey roughly matches the state average when it comes to the number of children who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 50 percent.

About 9 percent are in special education, and 6 percent are English-language learners.

The school is about 56 percent white, 24 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

Rosa Parks Elementary School

Perry Township’s Rosa Parks Elementary School is the product of a unique partnership over more than a decade.

    Rosa Parks Elementary School in Perry Township has been rated an A for five straight years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Rosa Parks Elementary School in Perry Township has been rated an A for five straight years.

The school opened in 2003 under the management of EdisonLearning, a New York-based company that was one of the first charter school networks in the country but which has shifted toward school management and other services. Rosa Parks was the second such partnership in Perry Township.

The school saw steady improvement in ISTEP scores until it peaked in 2011 at almost 94 percent passing, among the best in the state. But the past three years have seen small but steady declines. The school’s 86.6 percent passing rate in 2013-14 was still good enough to rank in the county’s top 10, however. The school has been rated an A for five straight years.

With about 664 students in grades K-5, Rosa Parks has fewer poor children than the average Indiana school at 33 percent. But it has more students in special education and learning English as a new language than the state averages at 17 and 10 percent, respectively.

About 72 percent of its students are white, 12 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black.

The school starts a new chapter this year. The Edison contract is over, and the district will now manage Rosa Parks Elementary.

Crooked Creek Elementary School

Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township has seen strong and steady ISTEP scores with between 80 and 85 percent passing in the past few years.

Washington Township's Crooked Creek Elementary school has maintained a high ISTEP passing rate for several years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Washington Township’s Crooked Creek Elementary school has maintained a high ISTEP passing rate for several years.

In 2013-14, 84.6 percent passed ISTEP, which was down slightly from the prior year. The school has been rated an A by the state for five straight years.

Crooked Creek is a large school with about 700 students in grades K-5. With 66 percent of students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, it has the second-highest poverty rate of any school in the top 10.

About 13 percent of students are in special education, and 9 percent are English-language learners.

The school is very diverse. About 45 percent of students are black, 32 percent are white and 11 percent are Hispanic.

Thompson Crossing Elementary School

After a five-year climb in its ISTEP passing rate, Franklin Township’s Thompson Crossing Elementary School posted the same 84 percent passing in 2013-14 as the prior year.

Thompson Creek Elementary School's strong test scores helped it earn an A for the second straight year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Thompson Creek Elementary School’s strong test scores helped it earn an A for the second straight year.

The steady gains helped push the school to an A from a B in 2012-13, and the school kept the A for a second straight year.

Serving about 610 students in grades K-5, Thompson Crossing has fewer poor children than the average Indiana school.

About 40 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 10 percent are in special education, and 5 percent are English-language learners. The school’s enrollment is about 71 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black.

Arlington Elementary School

Franklin Township’s Arlington Elementary School has held steady with good grades and high test scores for five years.

Despite a high poverty student body by Franklin Township's standards, Arlington Elementary has been a consistent high scorer on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Despite a high poverty student body by Franklin Township’s standards, Arlington Elementary has been a consistent high scorer on ISTEP.

Its ISTEP passing rate has not been below 80 percent since 2009, and it has earned an A for five straight years. About 83.5 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2013-14.

The school is one of just three in the top 10 that exceed the state average for the percent of children who come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 60 percent.

Serving about 600 students in grades K-5, about 16 percent are in special education, and 4 percent are English-language learners.

The school is about 79 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, 3 percent black and 3 percent Asian.

Top schools for other districts

Four other Marion County school districts don’t have any schools ranked in the top 10, but each has at least one school that was close. Those schools are:

Eagle Creek Elementary School

In 2013-14, Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School finished out of the top 10, but would have made it had its scores not slipped a bit from the prior year.

Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School has earned five straight A grades.
Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School has earned five straight A grades.

The school saw 79.3 percent pass ISTEP, but that was down from 85.1 percent the year before. It was still good enough to earn the school its fifth consecutive A-grade.

With about 514 students in grades K-5, Eagle Creek is among the more diverse schools with high test scores.

About 45 percent of its students are black, 25 percent are white and 18 percent are Hispanic.

The school has a very high percentage of students learning English as a new language at 17 percent. About 12 percent of students are in special education.

Eagle Creek is very close to the state average for the percentage of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 52 percent.

Grassy Creek Elementary School

In 2009, only about half of the students at Warren Township’s Grassy Creek Elementary School passed ISTEP. But a six-year climb in its passing rate to 77.4 percent in 2013-14 put the school at the top of the heap in the district and among the county’s best.

Warren Township's Grassy Creek Elementary School has made six straight years of gains on ISTEP.
Warren Township’s Grassy Creek Elementary School has made six straight years of gains on ISTEP.

Grassy Creek dropped to a C from an A in 2012 but rebounded the past two years. It has earned four A-grades in five years.

It has done all that despite higher poverty than most of the high-scoring schools in Marion County.

About 66 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

With about 420 students in grades K-4, the school is very diverse. About 48 percent of the students are black, 32 percent are white and 10 percent are Hispanic.

South Grove Intermediate School

South Grove Intermediate School serves a lot of students in a narrow band of grades with 650 kids in grades 4-6.

South Grove Intermediate School raised its grade to an A last year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
South Grove Intermediate School raised its grade to an A last year.

It’s also a high-poverty school, with about 74 percent of students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and it has a large share of students who are in special education at 19 percent.

Despite those challenges, the school raised its grade to an A in 2013-14, up from a B and a C the prior two years.

With 76.1 percent passing, the school maintained a five-year streak with at least 70 percent passing.

South Grove is about 79 percent white, 7 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic. About 2 percent of its students are learning English as a new language.

Blue Academy

Blue Academy is Decatur Township’s science, technology, engineering and math-focused elementary school, serving 580 students in grades 1-6.

Blue Academy in Decatur Township is a high-scoring school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Blue Academy in Decatur Township is a high-scoring school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

It earned an A in 2013-14 after being a C school for three of the prior four years.

ISTEP scores have been going up over six years, reaching 76.1 percent in 2013-14 compared with 57 percent in 2009. The school serves a large share of poor children, with about 68 percent coming from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 10 percent of students are learning English as a new language. Only 8 percent are in special education.

Blue Academy’s students are 67 percent white, 13 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic.

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.