Top Scoring Schools

Top-scoring township schools scored well on Indiana’s tougher new state ISTEP exam

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
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Despite a much tougher exam that led to dramatic drops in test scores across the state, the top Marion County schools from townships and small cities posted solid test scores in 2015, largely holding their high rankings from the previous year.

Eight of the top 10 schools were ranked in the top 10 last year while two schools were newcomers to the top-ten list. The new arrivals were Washington Township’s John Strange and Allisonville elementary schools. Washington Township had three of the top 10 schools and and Franklin Township had four.

Chalkbeat in recent weeks has highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam, the 10 IPS schools that ranked lowest for percent passing ISTEP and the top 10 charter schools in the city when it came to passing the test. This week, we’re listing the top ten scores among the schools in Marion County’s non-IPS districts.

All of these schools had passing rates that easily exceeded the state average of 52.6 percent passing and none of them saw their passing rates drop by more than 17 percentage points, the average decline statewide. Here’s a look at the township schools that made the grade:

Mary Adams Elementary School, Franklin Township

Mary Adams Elementary School vaulted from fourth best on ISTEP among township ad small city schools in 2014 to the best in the city in 2015 .

Franklin Township's Mary Adams Elementary School was the top scoring township school in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Franklin Township’s Mary Adams Elementary School was the top scoring township school in 2015.

That leap was fueled by better-than-average performance on the new, tougher ISTEP. With 77.2 percent passing in 2015, Mary Adams was just 11 percentage points below its 2014 passing rate. That is much better than most schools did on the new test. The average Indiana school saw its ISTEP passing rate fall by 19 percentage points.

The school has been moving up the list of top scoring Indianapolis schools for several years. That is particularly impressive because the school has a higher percentage of children who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch than most high-scoring schools. Meal assistance goes to 32 percent of the school’s students meaning their families earn less than $44,863 annually for a family of four. Still, the school’s poverty rate is well below the state average of 47.2 percent.

Of the 563 students in grade K-5 who attend Mary Adams, about 82 percent are white, 5 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black. About 12 percent of students were in special education and 4 percent were English language learners. The state averages in 2014-15 were 15 percent and 5 percent.

Bunker Hill Elementary School, Franklin Township

After two years as the top ranked Marion County township or small city school when it comes to ISTEP, Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School slipped to second place this year.

Franklin Township's Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2015.

Its 74 percent passing rate in 2015 was down about 17 percentage points from the prior year. That drop was smaller than the 19-point drop experienced by the average Indiana school on the tougher new exam.

Bunker Hill serves 561 students in grades K to 5. About 31 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 73 percent of students at the school are white, 12 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

About 13 percent were in special education and 6 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

John Strange Elementary School, Washington Township

John Strange Elementary School did not rank in the top 10 last year but this year placed third best on ISTEP among township and small city schools thanks to strong performance on the tougher 2015 exam.

Students work in small groups at John Strange Elementary School in Washington Township.
PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work in small groups at John Strange Elementary School in Washington Township.

With 74 percent passing ISTEP in 2015, John Strange was just six points below its 2014 passing rate. That is one of the smallest drops in the state.

That especially impressive because John Strange serves a high poverty student body. About 54 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. High poverty schools generally have lower test scores than most schools.

A large school, John Strange serves 638 students in grades K-5. About 44 percent of students are black, 34 percent are white and 10 percent are Hispanic.

About 10 percent of students were in special education and 7 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Amy Beverland Elementary School, Lawrence Township

Amy Beveralnd dropped a few spots down this list from No. 2 last year, but still had strong test performance in 2015.
With 73.6 percent passing, the school’s drop from the prior year was slightly better than the statewide average so Amy Beverland continued a five-year run of strong test performance.

Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township was one of the county's top scoring schools.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township was one of the county’s top scoring schools.

In general, students at Amy Beverland face fewer barriers to learning than most schools. About 25 percent of its students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 10 percent were in special education and 3 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. All three of those numbers are below the state averages.

The school has a large and growing enrollment with 806 students in grades 1 to 6. About 59 percent of the school’s students are white, 25 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic.

South Creek Elementary School, Franklin Township

A high scoring school for five years, Franklin Township’s South Creek also did well on the new ISTEP with 73.6 percent passing in 2015.

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.

That’s down about 17 percentage points, which was in line with the average drop across the state.

The school serves 667 students in grades K-5. Just 21 percent of its students come from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

About 15 percent of its students were in special education and 5 percent were English language learners.

About 81 percent of the school’s students are white, 5 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black.

Allison Elementary School, Speedway

Allison Elementary School in Speedway saw 72.7 percent pass ISTEP in 2015. That’s down about 16 percentage points from last year, which is slightly better than the average Indiana school.

James Allison Elementary School in Speedway scored well on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
James Allison Elementary School in Speedway scored well on ISTEP.

Allison Elementary has had strong performance on ISTEP the past five years, and it has done so despite serving students who face learning barriers that sometimes drag down test scores.

About 71 percent of the students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school serves a small enrollment of about 291 students. About 35 percent are white, 32 percent are black and 20 percent are Hispanic.

It had a large number of children who are learning English as a second language at 22 percent and about 11 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Rosa Parks Elementary School, Perry Township

With about 72.5 percent passing ISTEP in 2015, Perry Township’s Rosa Parks Elementary School was about 14 percentage points below its 2014 passing rate. That’s a smaller decline than the average Indiana school experienced.

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 and has mostly been a strong performer on tests in that time. The company no longer has a role at Rosa Parks.

About 721 students in grades K to 5 attend the school. About 31 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch. About 67 percent of its students are white, 16 percent are Asian, 7 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

In 2014-15, the last year for which data is available, 17 percent of students were in special education and 10 percent were English language learners.

Crooked Creek Elementary School, Washington Township

Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township saw fewer students pass ISTEP in 2015, but its passing rate dropped less than most Indiana schools.

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.

About 71.7 percent passed the test, down about 13 percentage points from 2014. That drop was not as deep as most schools in Indiana.

Crooked Creek has 720 students in grades K-5 and serves a high-poverty enrollment. About 48 percent of its students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is 45 percent black, 29 percent white and 12 percent Hispanic. About 13 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.

Thompson Crossing Elementary School, Franklin Township

Franklin Township’s Thompson Crossing Elementary School saw its passing rate drop from the prior year, but by less than the average Indiana school.

Thompson Crossing Elementary School posted strong test scores second straight year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Thompson Crossing Elementary School posted strong test scores second straight year.

About 71 percent of the school’s students passed the exam, down about 13 percentage points from the prior year.

The school’s test scores had been on the rise for I’ve years prior to the new, tougher ISTEP test.

Thompson Crossing has about 600 students enrolled in grades K-5. About 40 percent are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 71 percent white, 10 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic.

About 10 percent are in special education and 5 percent are English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Allisonville Elementary School, Washington Township

Allisonville Elementary School in Washington Township saw about 68.3 percent of students pass ISTEP last year, down about 15 percentage points from the prior year.

Strong ISTEP scores placed Allisonville Elementary School into the county's top 10.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Strong ISTEP scores placed Allisonville Elementary School into the county’s top 10.

That smaller-than-average drop, compared tot he rest of the state, helped vault Allisonville into the city’s top 10 among township and small city school districts.

Allisonville is a large school serving 767 students in grades K-5. About 33 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. About 61 percent are white, 17 percent are black and 12 percent are Hispanic.

About 14 percent of the school’s students were in special education and about 8 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

 

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.

union power

Gutting Wisconsin teachers unions hurt students, study finds

PHOTO: Creative Commons / Michael Vadon
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in 2015.

The high-profile fight to limit union power was replete with drama — including a recall election and state legislators fleeing to neighboring states.

In the 2011 battle in Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker ultimately came out the victor. The controversial law passed, Walker won the recall, and the Democratic-aligned unions have lost much of their power.

But new research points to other losers in the fight: students in the state’s already struggling schools.

The first study to assess how Wisconsin’s high-profile weakening of unions, particularly teachers unions, affected students finds that it led to a substantial decline in test scores.

The findings come as the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments for a case, known as Janus, that could dramatically scale back union power across the country — essentially taking aspects of the Wisconsin model national. And they give credence to concerns from unions and their defenders that weakening teachers bargaining power would ultimately make schools worse, not better.

A report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress released Wednesday highlights this research — and the fact that teacher pay and average experience declined in the wake of the law, known as Act 10 — to argue that weakening unions ultimately harm schools.

“Those concerned about the quality of public education — and of all public services — should understand that Wisconsin’s Act 10 and associated budget cuts have not had the positive impact on education that its proponents claimed it would,” the CAP report argues.

Still, the research, which has not been formally peer-reviewed, only assesses the short-term impact of Wisconsin’s law. It adds to a complicated set of research findings on unions that doesn’t render a clear verdict.

Short-term effect in Wisconsin is negative, especially for low-achieving schools

The new research looks at the effects of Wisconsin Act 10, which became law in 2011 and severely limited the scope of collective bargaining and allowed members to opt of unions.

The paper’s author, Jason Baron, took advantage of what was essentially a natural experiment set up by the law. Act 10 did not affect all school districts at once — a handful of school districts were allowed to maintain union rules until their existing contract expired up to two years later. That helped isolate the immediate impact of the law.

Baron found that weakening unions led to declines in test scores, particularly in math and science. The effects were fairly large, comparable to sharply increasing class sizes. And the harm was not evenly distributed: Schools that started out furthest behind were hurt the most, while higher achieving schools saw no impact.

Other research may help explain why.

The law led to big cuts in teacher compensation, particularly for veteran teachers and especially in health insurance and retirement benefits, according to one paper. There was also a spike in teacher retirement immediately following the law’s passage.

As compensation drops, it may become harder for district and teachers to recruit and keep teachers. An increase in retirement also reduces teacher experience, which has been linked to effectiveness.

Another study found that some Wisconsin districts moved from a single salary schedule to a performance-based pay system after Act 10’s passage. Those performance pay systems were more likely to be adopted by higher-achieving districts, potentially allowing them to lure effective teachers away from struggling schools.

“Following Act 10, high-performing schools filled vacancies from teacher retirements by poaching high-quality teachers from low-performing schools through attractive compensation schemes,” the paper concludes. So while those retirements might have hit all districts equally, high-performing districts were better able to make up the difference — at the expense of low-performing schools.

There is one study that complicates the narrative in Wisconsin. As retirements spiked, it found that academic achievement actually increased in the grades that teachers left. It’s not clear what explains this.

The larger question of how teachers unions affect learning remains up for debate

A number of other recent studies have examined the relationship between teachers unions and student outcomes outside of Wisconsin. The results aren’t consistent, but the trend has been more positive for unions of late. A caveat: Some of these studies have not been published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

  • On recent efforts to weaken unions: Research in Tennessee found that it led to a drop in teacher pay, but had no effect on student test scores. But a study of four states, including Wisconsin, that recently weakened unions found evidence of reduced teacher quality as a result.
  • On what happens when charter schools unionize: Two studies in California came to differing conclusions. One found that when charters unionize, student test scores go up, but the other showed no impact.
  • On the initial rise of collective bargaining: Another paper finds that students who went to schools where districts negotiated with unions earned less money and were more likely to be unemployed as adults. But this study looks at a fairly old data set — examining those who attended schools between 1965 and 1992.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear if any of this research is likely to influence the Supreme Court, as it considers the Janus case that could make life more difficult for unions. Last month, Chief Justice John Roberts called empirical studies on political gerrymandering “sociological gobbledygook.”