Struggling schools

Low state ISTEP test scores landed these 10 Indianapolis Public Schools at the bottom

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis middle school students have long struggled on state standardized exams, but a new, tougher ISTEP test in 2015 produced some abysmal results for middle schoolers in the state’s largest school district.

Of the ten IPS schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores last year, six were schools serving middle schoolers.

Their scores were so low that at some schools, the percentage of students who passed the exam were in the single digits.

Several of those middle school students attend combined high schools for grades 6-12 or 7-12. At some of them, high school students score well. But since ISTEP is administered only in grades 3-8, the middle grades are treated as a separate school for reporting purposes.

Chalkbeat last week highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam. Those schools managed to do comparatively well on the test even as the average Indiana school saw a 19 percentage point drop in the number of students who passed the exam in 2015 compared with 2014.

The ten schools at the bottom of the list for IPS showed even deeper declines than their peers across the state. Many of those are facing additional challenges including large numbers of poor students, English language learners and students with special needs.

Here’s at look at the 10 schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores in the district:

Crispus Attucks Junior High School

Just 15 percent of middle school students at Crispus Attucks High School passed ISTEP in 2015, down 31 percentage points from last year.

Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.

Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school located downtown that is a high performer. Its high school students have earned the school an A on the state school report card for four straight years based on end-of-course exams and other factors.

But on ISTEP, the 647 students in grades 6 to 8 have earned three consecutive F grades.

About 71 percent of the middle school students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the same as the districtwide average. To qualify, a family cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

The middle school students are 56 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 5 percent white. The district averages are 49 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 13 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. The district averages for that year were 18 percent in special education and 16 percent English language learners.

School 42

The passing rate for School 42 also dropped by a large amount, down 31 percentage points from 2014.

ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.
ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.

That dropped the school into the bottom 10 in IPS.

Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, this is is a neighborhood school on the city’s North side with 517 students.

Its grade fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there for four straight years.

The school has very high student poverty: about 78 percent of School 42’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most students are minorities — 82 percent are black, 10 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent white.

Nearly a quarter of the school’s students were in special education classes — 23 percent –and 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 69

Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, School 69 got an A from the state in 2010 but has earned four straight F’s since then.

Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.

Next year, the school will be managed by the charter school network that operates Enlace, a charter school housed in an IPS building. School 69 will be following the model IPS used at School 103, which last summer was handed over to Phalen Leadership Academies charter school network last fall to be independently managed.

The school, serving about 375 students, saw its passing rate fall by 29 percentage points to 13 percent in 2015.

That reversed a trend that had seen scores improving strongly for three straight years. Still, the school has been among the district’s lowest scorers even as scores were going up.

Like most IPS neighborhood schools, School 69 struggles with the challenges of serving a very high poverty student body.

About 83 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 86 percent of kids enrolled are black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

About 17 percent of students were in special education, and less than 1 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Broad Ripple Junior High School

With about 13 percent of middle school students passing ISTEP in 2015, Broad Ripple’s passing rate fell by 31 percentage points.

Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.

Like Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple has a big divide between high school and middle school test performance. That’s part of the reason IPS has a plan to shift middle school students out of Broad Ripple.

The high school has earned four straight B grades based on high school passing rates, but the middle school scores have earned the school three straight F grades.

About 72 percent of middle schools students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The middle school students are 66 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 7 percent white.

About 18 percent of students were in special education and 9 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 103

School 103, also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, is in the midst of a high profile overhaul.

The Northeast side neighborhood school, which has been among the worst in the district for test scores for years, was handed over by IPS to be managed under a contract by Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. The district is now working on following that model with outside partnerships to run low-scoring schools.

IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.
IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.

The 2015 ISTEP scores reflect the last year of IPS management for School 103. Just less than 10 percent of the school’s students passed the test, down from 15 percent in 2014. The 2016 scores will be the first since Phalen took over. The passing percentage had been falling since 2009.

School 103 faces many of the difficult challenges of most IPS schools.

About 74 percent of the school’s students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 83 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white. About 21 percent of the school’s student were in special education and 9 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

George Washington Junior High School

Fewer than one in 10 middle school students at George Washington High School passed ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.

George Washington is a West side high school that has been troubled for more than a decade. It was nearly taken over by the state for low test scores in 2012, but IPS has been allowed to continue managing the school.

Last year’s 9 percent passing rate cut last year’s passing rate with a big drop over 2014 when 18 percent of students passed the test. That earned the middle school its third consecutive F. About 255 students in grades 7 and 8 attend the school.

About 75 percent of George Washington’s middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 45 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white.

A huge 36 percent of students were in special education and 11 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 44

Just 8 percent of students at School 44 passed ISTEP in 2015, down 22 percentage points from the prior year.

Also called Riverside Elementary School, the school is located on the city’s North side. The school earned its fourth consecutive F last year.

School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.

Those results have IPS looking to make changes. Like School 69, School 44 also is being considered for outside management under contract next year.

School 44 appears poised to host Global Prep Academy, a new dual-language charter school to be run by Mariama Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who is developing the concept with support from a fellowship from The Mind Trust.

About 85 percent of School 44’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Roughly 64 percent of students are black, 25 percent Hispanic and 9 percent white.

Those in special education made up about 16 percent of students, and about 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Arlington Junior High School

Arlington High School was one of the lowest scoring schools in Indiana in 2012, which is why it was one of the first five schools to be taken over by the state that year.

Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.

It was managed externally by Tindley Accelerated Schools, a charter school network until Tindley pulled out at the end of the last school year.

IPS took control of the school last fall, so these scores reflect the last school year of Tindley’s management.

IPS recently relocated all of Arlington’s middle school students to a restricted area of the building to limit contact with high school students.

When it came to middle school, the scores were very low: 6 percent passed in 2015.

Arlington has 273 students in grades 7 and 8. About 72 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The school is 87 percent black, six percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

No data is available for the percent of middle school students who are in special education or learning English as a new language.

Northwest Junior High School

Northwest High School has long been one of the lowest-scoring schools in Indiana when it comes to state exams. Last year was no exception.

Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school students this year had among the very lowest scores in the state in 2015 as just less than 6 percent of them passed ISTEP.

That’s down 15 percentage points from the year before. The middle school students’ scores have earned Northwest four consecutive F grades.

The school has 306 students in grades 7 and 8. About 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 60 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.

About 21 percent of the school’s middle school students were in special education and 20 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, that last year for which data is available.

John Marshall Junior High School

Ranking lowest of any IPS school for percent passing ISTEP in 2015 was John Marshall High School’s middle school students.

Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the worst in IPS.
Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the lowest in IPS.

Just 3 percent of 287 students in grades 7 and 8 at the school passed the state exam.

The middle school students’ scores have earned John Marshall an F grade for four straight years.

The school faces the challenges of high poverty. About 76 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The middle school students are 69 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

About 27 percent of middle school students at the school are in special education an 9 percent are English language learners.

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.