Testing Testing

Innovation schools saw some of the largest gains on ISTEP in Indianapolis Public Schools. Here are the schools that had big changes.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Cold Spring is one of the IPS schools that had the biggest gains on ISTEP.

When ISTEP scores are released each year, buried in the rankings of the highest and lowest scoring schools is another story — schools that have made significant progress or seen precipitous drops.

So this year, we’re focusing on the schools with the largest changes in passing rates on the math and English tests for 3-8 grades. Changing tests scores can be driven by many factors beyond how much students learn, but they offer a hint at which schools are going through big shifts.

In IPS, several traditional neighborhood schools made the top of the list. But many of the schools that saw the biggest gains in passing rates were innovation schools, which the district began creating two years ago. The schools are managed by outside charter operators or nonprofits, but they are still considered part of the district. The strong gains in passing rates are one of the first indications that the controversial strategy could pay off for the district.

Schools of every type show up on the list of campuses that saw the biggest declines in passing rates. But some schools on the list are particularly surprising because they have earned high marks from the state in the past.

These 10 schools had the biggest gains on ISTEP from 2016 to 2017

  1. William McKinley School 39 — This neighborhood school in Fountain Square had the biggest jump in passing rates in the district. About 28 percent of students passed both the math and English tests, an increase of 9.7 percentage points over the prior year.
  2. Cold Spring School — Formerly an environmental science magnet, this school converted to innovation status last year. Passing rates rose to 30.2 percent, up 8.7 percentage points.
  3. Center for Inquiry at School 27 — An International Baccalaureate magnet school on the near north side, this school saw passing rates reach 33.8 percent, an increase of 8.4 percentage points.
  4. Phalen Leadership Academy at School 93 — This innovation school on the far east side was taken over by the Project Restore team about three years ago. Last year, it became an innovation school in partnership with the PLA charter network. The passing rate at the school reached 38.2 percent, up 8.2 percentage points from the previous year.
  5. Phalen Leadership Academy at School 103 — This far east side first school was the first struggling school to be restarted as an innovation school. Last year the passing rate jumped to 12.8 percent of students, up 8.1 percentage points.
  6. Global Prep Academy at School 44 — After years of academic problems, this campus was restarted as an innovation school last year, and it now uses a Spanish and English immersion model. Last year 14.6 percent of students passed both tests, more than double the prior year with an increase of 7.5 percentage points.
  7. Emma Donnan Elementary School — This innovation elementary school was founded in partnership with Charter Schools USA at the Emma Donnan Middle School campus on the south side. The passing rate was 22.6 percent last year, up 6.2 percentage points.
  8. Daniel Webster School 46 — This neighborhood elementary school on the southwest side had a passing rate of 27.4 percent, up 5.2 percentage points.
  9. Eliza A Blaker School 55 — A neighborhood elementary school on the north side, School 55 could become a magnet school next year. The passing rate was 24.1 percent of students, up 4.3 percentage points.
  10. Raymond Brandes School 65 — At this neighborhood school on the far south side, 36.1 percent of students passed both the math and English tests, up 2.7 percentage points over last year.

These 10 schools had the biggest drops on ISTEP from 2016 to 2017

  1. George Julian School 57 — At this neighborhood school in Irvington, 23.1 percent of students passed both the math and English tests, down 11.7 percentage points from the prior year.
  2. Christian Park School 82 — This neighborhood school on the east side had a passing rate of 28.9 percent, down 10.9 percentage points.
  3. Anna Brochhausen School 88 — This far east side neighborhood school had a passing rate of 19.8 percent, down 9.9 percentage points from last year.
  4. Lew Wallace School 107 — At this neighborhood school on the west side, 22.7 percent of students passed both the math and English tests, a drop of 8.2 percentage points.
  5. Rousseau McClellan School 91 — A Montessori magnet school on the north side, School 91 has one of the highest passing rates in the district at 49.4 percent. But it’s down 8 percentage points from the prior year.
  6. Center for Inquiry at School 2 — This downtown magnet school offers the International Baccalaureate program. The school has the third highest passing rate in the district at 57.7 percent, but it had fallen 7.3 percentage points.
  7. Kindezi Academy at School 69 — This neighborhood school was restarted as an innovation school last year. It had a 7.1 passing rate on the test, down 7 percentage points.
  8. Ernie Pyle School 90 — This magnet school uses the Paideia educational philosophy, which emphasizes seminar discussions as well as mastery of information. The school had a 35 percent passing rate, down 6.4 percentage points from the prior year.
  9. Jonathan Jennings School 109 — This neighborhood school on the northwest side had a passing rate of 26.7, a decline of 6.3 percentage points from the prior year.
  10. Clarence Farrington School 61 — This neighborhood school on the northwest side had a 9.3 percent passing rate, down 6.2 percentage points.

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.