Are Children Learning

Indianapolis high schools struggled on the 2016 ISTEP test, but these 10 were on top

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Find our all our stories and databases on the 2016 ISTEP test results, as well as other testing coverage, here.

Indiana high school students took the ISTEP test for the first time this year — and most posted abysmal scores.

In Marion County, even the schools with the highest number of students passing saw nearly half of their students fail, which means that thousands of Indianapolis students could be headed toward graduation without the skills they need to succeed in college in careers.

But there were a few standouts that outperformed the rest of the pack on the new test, a 10th grade ISTEP, which this year replaced subject-specific exams in Algebra I, freshman English and biology as a measure of school performance.

Three charter schools topped the list, including one surprising contender — a recovery high school designed to support students dealing with addiction. The rest of the schools were primarily in township districts, where schools tend to be more racially and socioeconomically balanced and better-funded.

Just one Indianapolis Public Schools high school made the top 10 list. The magnet school serves students with a rigorous International Baccalaureate curriculum, which is designed to prepare kids for a “global world” by teaching them to think critically, use research, ask probing questions and get involved in their communities.

We included school demographics because research shows that schools with more white and affluent students tend to do better on standardized tests. That means the schools with more low-income kids are the ones to watch.

These are the 10 Marion County public high schools with the highest ISTEP passing rates:  

Charles A. Tindley Accelerated School. This charter school, part of the six-school Tindley charter network, saw 57 percent of its students pass both English and math ISTEP exams.


  • 94.6 percent black, 3.1 percent multiracial, 1.5 percent white.
  • 68.5 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Herron High School. At this charter school, a highly sought-after charter school on the near northside known for its liberal arts curriculum, 51.3 percent of students passed both tests.


  • 61.6 percent white, 23.5 percent black, 7.5 percent multiracial, 4.8 percent Hispanic, 2.2 percent Asian.
  • 35 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Hope Academy. This charter school, which serves students recovering from addiction, had 50 percent of students pass both exams.


  • 71.4 percent white, 10.7 percent multiracial, 10.7 percent Hispanic, 3.6 percent black, 3.6 percent Asian.
  • 46.4 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Franklin Central High School. This Franklin Township school saw 44.6 percent of kids passing the English and math tests.


  • 77.9 percent white, 7 percent black, 6.3 percent Hispanic, 4.8 percent multiracial, 3.5 percent Asian.
  • 34.1 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

North Central High School. At this Washington Township school, 34.9 percent of students passed the exams.


  • 41 percent black, 35.2 percent white, 13.5 percent Hispanic, 6.2 percent multiracial, 4.1 percent Asian.
  • 47.8 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Speedway Senior High School. This Speedway school saw 28.4 percent of students pass both tests.


  • 56 percent white, 21.6 percent black, 11.7 percent Hispanic, 5.6 percent multiracial, 5.1 percent Asian.
  • 51.9 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Shortridge High School. The only Indianapolis Public Schools high school to make the top 10 list, this IB magnet school saw 26.9 percent of its students passed the two tests.


  • 44.7 percent black, 27.2 percent white, 20.1 percent Hispanic, 6.6 percent multiracial,
  • 52.6 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Lawrence North High School. At this township school, 25 percent students passed both ISTEP English and math tests.


  • 44.4 percent black, 31.8 percent white, 15.5 percent Hispanic, 6.4 percent multiracial, 1.8 percent Asian.
  • 54.8 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Pike High School. At this township school, 24.6 percent of students passed both ISTEP exams.


  • 62.6 percent black, 18.9 percent Hispanic, 9.7 percent white, 6.6 percent multiracial, 2.2 percent Asian.
  • 58.1 percent of students qualify for meal assistance.

Southport High School. This high school in Perry Township saw 23.7 percent of students pass the exams.


  • 57.9 percent white, 16.2 Asian, 13.4 Hispanic, 7 percent black, 5.5 percent multiracial.
  • 60.4 percent percent of students qualify for meal assistance.


This Wayne Township school made big gains on ISTEP, and its principal said teachers sticking around was key.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students at Robey Elementary School in Wayne Township participate in an English lesson.

As the kindergartners at Robey Elementary School shuffled down the hallway in a single-file line, the wings on their festive construction paper bat headbands flapped softly.

When Principal Ben Markley walked by, the kindergartners jostled to greet him, one after another giving a tiny wave by bending their index fingers up and down. Bat wings flapped furiously.

“Are we working hard today?” Markley asked as he approached, returning what he dubbed the “kindergarten wave” by waggling his own index finger.

“Yes!” the kids chorused back excitedly.

Markley continued down the hallway, explaining that he created the wave to give some of the school’s youngest students a special way to connect with him — a better option than running up and gluing themselves to his legs, he said.

He is now in his fifth year at Robey, a school with more than 750 students located in the northwest corner of Wayne Township. In fact, Markley has spent his entire career as an educator in Wayne Township. And he’s not alone: Of the 20 Robey teachers who taught grades that took ISTEP last year, 19 stayed on from the year before.

Markley says that retaining teachers and staff has afforded students immense benefits — not the least of which that the school made some of the largest gains of any township school on last year’s ISTEP test.

Chalkbeat sat down with Markley recently to talk about the school’s progress. Below are excerpts from the conversation, edited for clarity and brevity.

Your passing rate for English and math went up about 8 percentage points from last year, and your letter grade went up from a B to an A. What was your reaction when you learned that?

Two years ago we were pretty disappointed with some of our scores. We saw some areas in math that we thought we should be addressing a little differently — the way our teachers were thinking about curriculum and really the depth and the rigor that we were presenting to our students.

There was this pretty big gap between what we were asking our kids to do and what was on the state assessment. We talked a lot about that last year. We spent a lot of our professional development time thinking about what are the deeper thinking skills that students need, especially in math. We sometimes called it how do we get kids to grapple with problems. How do we get them to show perseverance and dedication and be able to learn from mistakes — to make a mistake and accept that mistake and say, how do we grow from this?

We haven’t had the teacher turnover that some schools have had. And so (teachers within every grade) are becoming content and curricular experts. When you put smart people in the room together talking about how they teach something, they are able to share lots of great ideas.

To see that pan out in improved performance — that’s what you’re so excited about. That’s why you put all that effort and time and energy and debating and conversation in, because then our hard work paid off, and that’s rewarding for teachers.

What is your school community like?

We are about 52 to 53 percent free and reduced lunch this year. We’re about 50 percent white, about 35 to 40 percent African American and about 10 percent Hispanic.

It feels almost neighborhood- or community-like being back here. I think families know that they can come here and they can partner with staff members to try to find the best ways to help their children. We serve rural families and out-of-district families who choose to come to Robey, and we take pride in that fact.

What is your approach to leadership?

I think we have very talented, dedicated, smart people, and so I feel like my job is to get them the resources that they need. I trust the decisions that teachers make. So I want them to feel empowered to make those decisions and suggest those changes and improvements that help us move forward as a school.

I talked about staff continuity already. I think that is something I maybe even initially underestimated how important it was. It fosters a sense of collegiality. They know they’ve got each others’ backs.

It also just gives them time to wrap their minds around our curriculum. The first time you teach it, that’s a big undertaking. It’s overwhelming. And so to have consistency (with our teaching staff) from year to year … was critical to our success.

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.


Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.