Five years after the Indiana State Board of Education took control over three Indianapolis Public Schools and controversially hired a for-profit management company to turn them around, those school have not shown marked improvement on annual state exams.

But when the schools came up for discussion at a board meeting Wednesday, members said they were impressed by progress the schools have made on an interim test that tracks whether students are improving.

“The data presented today by Charter Schools USA is going in the right direction,” said board member David Freitas. “To turn around schools is a very difficult progress. They are making, in my opinion, extraordinary progress toward turning those schools around. They’re not where we want them to be yet, but the data that was presented today is really making inroads into turning those schools around.”

The board heard a presentation from the management company, Florida-based Charter Schools USA, which took over Howe and Manual high schools and Donnan Middle School in 2011 after years of posting rock-bottom test scores.

Sherry Hage, chief academic officer for Charter Schools USA, said students at the three school are still posting test scores that are below national averages on the MAP test, which is designed by the Northwest Evaluation Association and is given several times throughout the school year. But results were ticking up during the last school year, she said.

“We are seeing great growth with our students and getting them to grade level,” Hage said. “Now we are providing more opportunities in terms of after-school tutoring, office hours and online (support).”

More students are now meeting grade level expectations than early 2015, but Howe and Donnan still were rated F’s by the state in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Manual received a D in 2014 and 2015. At all three schools in 2015, between 70 and 89 percent of students couldn’t pass state exams.

Here’s the NWEA MAP data on the number of students achieving at grade level:

  • Manual High School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made a 7 percentage point gain in math (29 percent to 36 percent) and a 5 percentage point gain in reading (36 percent to 41 percent).
  • Howe High School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made a 8 percentage point gain in math (16 percent to 24 percent) and a 22 percentage point gain in reading (17 percent to 39 percent).
  • Emma Donnan Middle School: From fall 2015 to spring 2016, students made an 8 percentage point gain in math (15 percent to 23 percent) and a 22 percentage point gain in reading (13 percent to 35 percent).

Freitas proposed that Charter Schools USA come back to the board at some point with proposals about creating feeder elementary and middle schools that would get kids involved in the charter network’s curriculum even earlier.

“All the education research says you should have these students as early as possible in the system, so that’s what I’m promoting,” Freitas said. “We need to push Charter Schools USA’s influence back as far as possible so that students have an experience, potentially a K-12 experience, with Charter Schools USA. Based on what I’ve seen across the country, if we were to make that happen in Indiana, students would be better served by that model.”

Indianapolis Public Schools officials, however, are less impressed with the charter school network. In August, WFYI reported that IPS board members were troubled by data from an elementary school run by the company that feeds into Donnan that showed students were about one year or more behind in reading and math.

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz said the board would talk more in the future about whether to expand Charter Schools USA’s footprint within IPS.

“That’s one of the reasons for Charter Schools USA and IPS to come back for presentations because the board wanted to keep abreast as to what is going on and how it’s looking and what is the data you are using to drive your instruction,” Ritz said. “That will be a continued conversation.”