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.

Surprising report

EXCLUSIVE: Did online snafus skew Tennessee test scores? Analysts say not much

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen will release the results of Tennessee's 2017-18 standardized test this week, but the reliability of those TNReady scores has been in question since this spring's problem-plagued administration of the online exam.

An independent analysis of technical problems that disrupted Tennessee’s online testing program this spring is challenging popular opinion that student scores were significantly tainted as a result.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Wednesday that the disruptions to computerized testing had “small to no impact” on scores, based on a monthlong analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization, or HumRRO. The Virginia-based technical group has expertise in psychometrics, the science behind educational assessments.

“We do believe these are valid, reliable scores,” McQueen told Chalkbeat on the eve of releasing state- and district-level scores for TNReady, the state’s standardized test in its third year.


Here are five things to know as Tennessee prepares to release TNReady scores


The state hired the research group to scrutinize several issues, including whether frequent online testing snafus made this year’s results unreliable. For instance, during at least seven days out of the three-week testing window, students statewide reported problems logging in, staying online, and submitting their tests — issues that eventually prompted the Legislature to roll back the importance of scores in students’ final grades, teacher evaluations, and school accountability systems.

But the analysis did not reveal a dramatic impact.

“For students who experienced the disruption, the analysis did not find any systematic effect on test scores that resulted from lapses in time between signing in and submitting their tests,” McQueen told Chalkbeat.

There was, however, a “small but consistent effect” if a student had to log on multiple times in order to complete the test, she said.

“When I say small, we’re talking about an impact that would be a handful of scale score points out of, say, a possible 200 or 250 points,” McQueen said.

Analysts found some differences in test score averages between 2017 and 2018 but concluded they were not due to the technical disruptions.

“Plausible explanations could be the students just didn’t know the (academic) standards as well and just didn’t do as well on the test,” McQueen said. “Or perhaps they were less motivated after learning that their scores would not count in their final grades after the legislation passed. … The motivation of our students is an unknown we just can’t quantify. We can’t get in their minds on motivation.”

About half of the 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested with computers, and the other half used paper materials in the state’s transition to online exams. Those testing online included all high school students.

Out of about 502,000 end-of-course tests administered to high schoolers, educators filed about 7,600 irregularity reports – about 1.4 percent – related to problems with test administration, which automatically invalidated those results.

The state asked the analysts specifically to look at the irregularity reports for patterns that could be cause for concern, such as demographic shifts or excessive use of invalidations. They found none.

TNReady headaches started on April 16 – the first day of testing – when students struggled to log on. More problems emerged during the weeks that followed until technicians finally traced the issues to a combination of “bugs in the software” and the slowness of a computerized tool that helps students in need of audible instructions. At one point, officials with testing company Questar blamed a possible cyberattack for shutting down its online platform, but state investigators later dismissed that theory.

While this year’s scores officially are mostly inconsequential, McQueen emphasized Wednesday that the results are still valuable for understanding student performance and growth and analyzing the effectiveness of classroom instruction across Tennessee.

“TNReady scores should be looked at just like any data point in the scheme of multiple data points,” she said. “That’s how we talk about this every year. But it’s an important data point.”

heads up

Tennessee will release TNReady test scores on Thursday. Here are five things to know.

PHOTO: Getty Images/Kali9

When Tennessee unveils its latest standardized test scores on Thursday, the results won’t count for much.

Technical problems marred the return to statewide online testing this spring, prompting the passage of several emergency state laws that rendered this year’s TNReady scores mostly inconsequential. As a result, poor results can’t be used to hold students, educators, or schools accountable — for instance, firing a teacher or taking over a struggling school through the state’s Achievement School District.

But good or bad, the scores still can be useful, say teachers like Josh Rutherford, whose 11th-grade students were among those who experienced frequent online testing interruptions in April.

“There are things we can learn from the data,” said Rutherford, who teaches English at Houston County High School. “I think it would be unprofessional to simply dismiss this year’s scores.”

Heading into this week’s data dump, here are five things to know:

1. This will be the biggest single-day release of state scores since the TNReady era began three years ago.

Anyone with internet access will be able to view state- and district-level scores for math, English, and science for grades 3-12. And more scores will come later. School-by-school data will be released publicly in a few weeks. In addition, Tennessee will unveil the results of its new social studies test this fall after setting the thresholds for what constitutes passing scores at each grade level.

2. Still, this year’s results are anticlimactic.

There are two major reasons. First, many educators and parents question the scores’ reliability due to days of online testing headaches. They also worry that high school students stopped trying after legislators stepped in to say the scores don’t necessarily have to count in final grades. Second, because the scores won’t carry their intended weight, the stakes are lower this year. For instance, teachers have the option of nullifying their evaluation scores. And the state also won’t give each school an A-F grade this fall as originally planned. TNReady scores were supposed to be incorporated into both of those accountability measures.

3. The state is looking into the reliability of the online test scores.

In addition to an internal review by the Education Department, the state commissioned an independent analysis by the Human Resources Research Organization. Researchers for the Virginia-based technical group studied the impact of Tennessee’s online interruptions by looking into testing irregularity reports filed in schools and by scrutinizing variances from year to year and school to school, among other things.

4. The reliability of paper-and-pencil test scores are not in question.

Only about half of Tennessee’s 600,000 students who took TNReady this year tested on computers. The other half — in grades 3-5 and many students in grades 6-8 — took the exams the old-fashioned way. Though there were some complaints related to paper testing too, state officials say they’re confident about those results. Even so, the Legislature made no distinction between the online and paper administrations of TNReady when they ordered that scores only count if they benefit students, teachers, and schools.

5. Ultimately, districts and school communities will decide how to use this year’s data.

Even within the same district, it wasn’t uncommon for one school to experience online problems and another to enjoy a much smoother testing experience. “Every district was impacted differently,” said Dale Lynch, executive director of the state superintendents organization. “It’s up to the local district to look at the data and make decisions based on those local experiences.”

District leaders have been reviewing the embargoed scores for several weeks, and they’ll share them with teachers in the days and weeks ahead. As for families, parents can ask to see their students’ individual score reports so they can learn from this year’s results, too. Districts distribute those reports in different ways, but they’re fair game beginning Thursday. You can learn more here.