Struggling schools

Bottom ranked township schools saw big drops on ISTEP exam

PHOTO: Hayleigh Colombo
Township schools face many of the same challenges often associated primarily with inner-city schools, such as high poverty and other learning barriers.

Students at the lowest scoring township and small city schools in Marion County struggled mightily with the tough new ISTEP exam.

The merged city of Indianapolis and Marion County includes 11 separate school districts — Indianapolis Public Schools, eight township school districts and the small cities of Speedway and Beech Grove.

In those districts, are many schools where students posted top scores on the state’s ISTEP exam. Chalkbeat last week listed the ten township schools that had the highest percentage of students passing ISTEP last year. The ranking was part of a series of stories that have revealed the top 10 IPS schools, the bottom 10 IPS schools,  the top-ten charter schools in the city, lowest-scoring charter schools and top-rated township or small city schools.

This week, we’re listing the ten township or small city schools that had the lowest percentage of students who passed the exam.

These schools weren’t alone in seeing dramatic drops in scores between 2014 and 2015. The average Indiana school saw its passing score drop by 19 percentage points. But the ten schools at the bottom of the township and small school list saw their scores go down by much more than the state average drop.

All of them had passing rates well below the state average of 52.6 percent, and in several cases their passing rates were about half the state average.

As in past years, schools with high poverty and students with other barriers to learning struggled on standardized state tests.

All of the bottom 10 schools had more than the state average of 47.2 percent of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. To qualify, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

Several of the lowest-scoring schools also had larger shares than the state averages of students in special education and or who were English language learners. The state averages in 2014-15 were 15 percent and 5 percent. Here’s the list:

Guion Creek Middle School

Guion Creek Middle School in Pike Township was on this list last year, and returned after its passing percentage on ISTEP dropped 24 percentage points to 30.7, ending three years of improved ISTEP passing rates.

Pike Township's Guion Creek Middle School ISTEP passing rate landed it among the county's bottom 10.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Pike Township’s Guion Creek Middle School ISTEP passing rate landed it among the county’s bottom 10.

The school serves about 902 students in grades 6 to 8. Of them, 57 percent are black, 35 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are white.

About 25 percent of students were English language learners and 14 percent were in special education in 2015-16, the last year for which data was available.

About 76 percent of students who attend Guion Creek come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, meaning their families earn less than $44,863 in income annually for a family of four.

Brook Park Elementary School, Lawrence Township

Brook Park Elementary School almost got off this list in 2015. The prior year, the Lawrence Township school had the lowest passing rate outside of IPS of any traditional elementary school in Marion County.

Brook Park Elementary ranks among the lowest ISTEP passing rates in Marion County.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Brook Park Elementary ranks among the lowest ISTEP passing rates in Marion County.

Brook Park moved up the ranking slightly in 2015 because it held steady on the new, tougher ISTEP. About 31 percent of its students passed the test, down 19 points from last year. That was the same drop as the average Indiana school while other township schools showed larger declines.

The school serves about 650 students in grades 1-6. The school had seen three years of improving test scores before the the 2015 test changes.

About 85 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 61 percent of students are black, 19 percent  are Hispanic and 14 are percent  white. About 14 percent of students who took the exam were English-language learners and 13 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Rhoades Elementary School, Wayne Township

An enormous drop of 33 percentage points — much larger than that of the average Indiana school — landed Rhoades Elementary School a place on the bottom 10 list last year.

Wayne Township's Rhoades Elementary School saw a big drop in test scores in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Wayne Township’s Rhoades Elementary School saw a big drop in test scores in 2015.

The Wayne Township school has very high percentage of students who live in poverty — 88 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is very diverse.

About 38 percent of the 787 students who attend Rhoades Elementary School in grades K-6 are white, 30 percent are black and 23 percent are Hispanic.

About 8 percent of students were in special education and 18 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Westlake Elementary School, Wayne Township

The tougher new ISTEP test hit several Wayne Township schools hard, Westlake Elementary School among them.

Westlake Elementary School is one of three Wayne Township schools that ranked in the county's bottom 10 on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Westlake Elementary School is one of three Wayne Township schools that ranked in the county’s bottom 10 on ISTEP.

About 29 percent of students passed the 2015 test, down 32 percentage points from the prior year.

Westlake’s enrollment includes about 75 percent of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school which has about 795 students in grades K-6, also serves a diverse population. About 37 percent of students are Hispanic, 34 percent are black and 23 percent are white.

About 12 percent of students were in special education and a huge 31 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

North Wayne Elementary School, Wayne Township

A 34 percentage point slide in the percentage of student passing ISTEP dropped North Wayne Elementary School into the bottom 10.

Low test scores dropped North Wayne Elementary into the county's bottom 10 when it came to passing ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Low test scores dropped North Wayne Elementary into the county’s bottom 10 when it came to passing ISTEP in 2015.

About 29 percent of students passed the test in 2015, down from 63 percent the prior year.

A large school, North Wayne serves 936 students in grades K-6. Schoolwide, roughly 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 57 percent of students are black, 31 percent are Hispanic and and 6 percent are white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 26 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data were available.

Decatur Township School of Excellence

The Decatur Township School of Excellence was designed to tailor learning to individual middle and high school students as an alternative for those who feel like they didn’t fit well in traditional schools. But the district-run school in Decatur Township struggled on the new ISTEP.

Decatur Township School Of Excellence creates unique learning plans for students in grades 7-12/
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Decatur Township School Of Excellence creates unique learning plans for students in grades 7-12/

Its 29 percent passing rate for students in seventh and eighth grade was down 31 percentage points from the prior year, placing the school in the bottom 10.

The school serves about 166 students in grades 7-12. About 63 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 85 percent of the school’s students are white, 7 percent are black and 5 percent are Hispanic.

About 19 percent were in special education and 3 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Stonybrook Intermediate Academy, Warren Township

Warren township’s Stonybrook Intermediate Academy continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015, keeping it on the bottom 10 list.

Warren Township's Stonybrook Middle School struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Warren Township’s Stonybrook Middle School struggled on ISTEP in 2015.

About 28 percent of its students passed the tougher ISTEP, down 29 percentage point from the prior year. The school has struggled on ISTEP for several years.

Serving 576 students in grades 5 and 6, the school emphasizes hands-on learning and using technology in lessons.

About 83 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 65 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

Students in special education made up about 19 percent of students while about 8 percent of students were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Sunny Heights Elementary School, Warren Township

A bigger than average drop in its ISTEP passing rate put Sunny Heights Elementary School back on the list of lowest-scoring township and small city schools in 2015.

Once an A school, Sunny Heights Elementary School is now struggling to get students to pass ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Once an A school, Sunny Heights Elementary School is now struggling to get students to pass ISTEP.

About 28 percent passed, down 26 percentage points from the prior year. It continued a long test performance slide for the Warren Township school, which was rated an A by the state in 2011 and featured by the Indianapolis Star as one of “five schools that beat the odds.”

About 478 students in grades K-4 attend the school. About 65 percent of students are black, 17 percent are Hispanic and 7 percent are white. About 75 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

About 15 percent were English-language learners, triple the state average and about 8 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

The district last year began a new effort to improve the school, including a new principal.

Lincoln Middle School, Pike Township

Another school with a bigger than average drop on its ISTEP passing rate in 2015 was Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township.

Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township was again ranked in the county's bottom 10.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Lincoln Middle School in Pike Township was again ranked in the county’s bottom 10.

About 26 percent of the school’s 841 students in grades 6-8 passed the test, down 26 percentage points from the prior year.

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

About 62 percent of the students are black, 24 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are white.

About 18 percent of students were English-language learners and 16 percent were in special education in 2014-15, the last year for which data was available.

Snacks Crossing Elementary School, Pike Township

A huge 47-percentage point drop on its ISTEP passing rate put Snacks Crossing Elementary School at the bottom of this list even though it did not appear among the bottom 10 schools last year.

Snacks Crossing Elementary School saw a large drop in the percentage of students passing ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Snacks Crossing Elementary School saw a large drop in the percentage of students passing ISTEP in 2015.

Just 24.8 percent passed the test in 2015, down from almost 72 percent the prior year.

Snacks Crossing has 569 students enrolled in grades K to 5. About 69 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 71 percent of the school’s students are black, 20 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are white.

About 20 percent of students were in special education and 19 percent were learning English as a new language in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

good news bad news

Most Tennessee districts are showing academic growth, but districts with the farthest to go improved the least

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

It’s not just Memphis: Across Tennessee, districts with many struggling schools posted lower-than-expected growth scores on this year’s state exams, according to data released Tuesday.

The majority of Tennessee’s 147 districts did post scores that suggest students are making or exceeding expected progress, with over a third earning the top growth score.

But most students in three of the state’s four largest districts — in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga — aren’t growing academically as they should, and neither are those in most of their “priority schools” in the state’s bottom 5 percent.

The divide prompted Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to send a “good news, bad news” email to superintendents.

“These results point to the ability for all students to grow,” she wrote of the top-performing districts, many of which have a wide range of academic achievement and student demographics.

Of those in the bottom, she said the state would analyze the latest data to determine “critical next steps,” especially for priority schools, which also are located in high-poverty communities.

“My message to the leaders of Priority schools … is that this level of growth will never get kids back on track, so we have to double-down on what works – strong instruction and engagement, every day, with no excuses,” McQueen said.

Growth scores are supposed to take poverty into account, so the divide suggests that either the algorithm didn’t work as it’s supposed to or, in fact, little has happened to change conditions at the state’s lowest-performing schools, despite years of aggressive efforts in many places.

The results are bittersweet for Tennessee, which has pioneered growth measures for student learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools under its Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

On the one hand, the latest TVAAS data shows mostly stable growth through the transition to TNReady, the state’s new test aligned to new academic standards, in the first year of full testing for grades 3-11. On the other hand, Tennessee has invested tens of millions of dollars and years of reforms toward improving struggling schools — all part of its massive overhaul of K-12 education fueled by its 2009 federal Race to the Top award.

The state-run Achievement School District, which launched in the Race to the Top era to turn around the lowest-performing schools, saw a few bright spots, but almost two-thirds of schools in its charter-reliant portfolio scored in the bottom levels of student growth.

Shelby County’s own turnaround program, the Innovation Zone, fared poorly too, with a large percentage of its Memphis schools scoring 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, after years of scoring 4s and 5s.


District profile: Most Memphis schools score low on student growth


Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the results a “wakeup call” for the state’s biggest district in Memphis.

“When you have a population of kids in high poverty that were already lagging behind on the old, much easier test, it’s not surprising that we’ve got a lot of work to do here,” he said, citing the need to support teachers in mastering the state’s new standards.

“The good part is that we’ve seen the test now and we know what’s expected. The bad part is we’ve seen the test … and it’s a different monster,” he told Chalkbeat.

You can find district composite scores below. (A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year.) For a school-by-school list, visit the state’s website.

exclusive

Most Memphis schools score low on student growth under new state test

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

More than half of Memphis schools received the lowest possible score for student growth on Tennessee’s new test last school year, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat for Shelby County Schools.

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest measure, about 54 percent of the district’s 187 schools scored in the bottom rung of the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, known as TVAAS.

That includes most schools in the Innovation Zone, a reversal after years of showing high growth in the district’s prized turnaround program.

Charter schools fared poorly as well, as did schools that were deemed among the state’s fastest-improving in 2015.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson called the scores a “huge wakeup call.”

“It shows that we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do,” Hopson told Chalkbeat on Monday. “It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be frustrating. … It starts with making sure we’re supporting teachers around mastering the new standards.”

District leaders across Tennessee have been trying to wrap their heads around the latest growth scores since receiving the data in late August from the State Department of Education. Only two years earlier, the Memphis district garnered the highest possible overall growth score. But since then, the state has switched to a harder test called TNReady that is aligned for the first time to more rigorous academic standards.

TVAAS results are scheduled to be released publicly this week, but Chalkbeat obtained a copy being circulated within Shelby County Schools, Tennessee’s largest district.

The data is prompting questions from some Memphis educators — and assurances from state officials — over the validity of TVAAS, the state’s system for measuring learning and judging the effectiveness of its teachers and schools.

This is the first year of issuing district-wide TVAAS scores since 2015. That’s because of the state’s cancellation of 2016 testing for grades 3-8 due mostly to failures in the switch to online testing.

Some educators wonder whether the bumpy switch to TNReady is a factor in this year’s nosedive, along with changes in how the scores are calculated.

For example, data for fourth-graders is missing since there is no prior state testing in third grade for comparison. Elementary and middle schools also don’t have growth scores for social studies, since the 2017 questions were a trial run and the results don’t count toward a school’s score.

Hopson acknowledged concerns over how the state compares results from “two very different tests which clearly are apples and oranges,” but he added that the district won’t use that as an excuse.

“Notwithstanding those questions, it’s the system upon which we’re evaluated on and judged,” he said.

State officials stand by TVAAS. They say drops in proficiency rates resulting from a harder test have no impact on the ability of teachers, schools and districts to earn strong TVAAS scores, since all students are experiencing the same change.

“Because TVAAS always looks at relative growth from year to year, not absolute test scores, it can be stable through transitions,” said Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the State Department of Education.

Shelby County Schools is not the only district with disappointing TVAAS results. In Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools logged low growth scores. But Gast said that more districts earned average or high growth scores of 3, 4 or 5 last school year than happened in 2015.

Want to help us understand this issue? Send your observations to [email protected]

Below is a breakdown of Shelby County’s TVAAS scores. A link to a school-by-school list of scores is at the bottom of this story.

Districtwide

School-wide scores are a combination of growth in each tested subject: literacy, math, science and social studies.

Fifty three schools saw high growth in literacy, an area where Shelby County Schools has doubled down, especially in early grades. And 51 schools saw high growth in math.

Note: A TVAAS score of 3 represents average growth for a student in one school year. A score of 1 represents significantly lower academic growth compared to peers across the state.

2017

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 101 54%
2 19 10%
3 20 11%
4 10 5%
5 37 20%

2015

School-wide composite Number of schools Percent of schools
1 58 28%
2 16 8%
3 38 19%
4 18 9%
5 75 37%

Innovation Zone

Out of the 23 schools in the district’s program to turn around low-performing schools, most received a growth score of 1 in 2017. That stands in stark contrast to prior years since the program opened in 2012, when most schools were on a fast growth track.

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 14
2 2
3 2
4 0
5 5

Reward schools

Nearly half of 32 schools deemed 2015 Tennessee reward schools for high growth saw a major drop in TVAAS scores in 2017:

  • Central High
  • Cherokee Elementary
  • Germanshire Elementary
  • KIPP Memphis Middle Academy
  • Kirby High
  • Memphis Business Academy Elementary
  • Power Center Academy High
  • Power Center Academy Middle
  • Ross Elementary
  • Sheffield High
  • South Park Elementary
  • Southwind High
  • Treadwell Middle
  • Westside Elementary

Charter schools

Charter schools authorized by Shelby County Schools fared similarly to district-run schools in growth scores, with nearly half receiving a TVAAS of 1 compared to 26 percent of charter schools receiving the same score in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 18
2 6
3 7
4 2
5 7

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 10
2 2
3 7
4 3
5 16

Optional schools

Half of the the district’s optional schools, which are special studies schools that require students to test into its programs, received a 1 on TVAAS. That’s compared to just 19 percent in 2015.

2017

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
1 23
2 6
3 5
4 2
5 10

2015

School-wide composite Number of iZone schools
2 5
3 6
4 5
5 14

You can sort through a full list of TVAAS scores for Shelby County Schools here.