Are Children Learning

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.

To Do

Tennessee’s new ed chief says troubleshooting testing is first priority

PHOTO: (Caiaimage/Robert Daly)

Penny Schwinn knows that ensuring a smooth testing experience for Tennessee students this spring will be her first order of business as the state’s new education chief.

Even before Gov.-elect Bill Lee announced her hiring on Thursday, she was poring over a recent report by the state’s chief investigator about what went wrong with TNReady testing last spring and figuring out her strategy for a different outcome.

“My first days will be spent talking with educators and superintendents in the field to really understand the scenario here in Tennessee,” said Schwinn, who’s been chief deputy commissioner of academics in Texas since 2016.

“I’ll approach this problem with a healthy mixture of listening and learning,” she added.

Schwinn’s experience with state assessment programs in Texas and in Delaware — where she was assistant secretary of education — is one of the strengths cited by Lee in selecting her for one of his most critical cabinet posts.

The Republican governor-elect has said that getting TNReady right is a must after three straight years of missteps in administration and scoring in Tennessee’s transition to online testing. Last year, technical disruptions interrupted so many testing days that state lawmakers passed emergency legislation ordering that poor scores couldn’t be used to penalize students, teachers, schools, or districts.

Schwinn, 36, recalls dealing with testing headaches during her first days on the job in Texas.

“We had testing disruptions. We had test booklets mailed to the wrong schools. We had answer documents in testing booklets. We had online administration failures,” she told Chalkbeat. “From that, we brought together teachers, superintendents, and experts to figure out solutions, and we had a near-perfect administration of our assessment the next year.”

What she learned in the process: the importance of tight vendor management, including setting clear expectations of what’s expected.

She plans to use the same approach in Tennessee, working closely with people in her new department and Questar Assessment, the state’s current vendor.

“Our job is to think about how to get online testing as close to perfect as possible for our students and educators, and that is going to be a major focus,” she said.

The test itself has gotten good reviews in Tennessee; it’s the online miscues that have many teachers and parents questioning the switch from paper-and-pencil exams. Schwinn sees no choice but to forge ahead online and is quick to list the benefits.

“If you think about how children learn and access information today, many are getting that information from hand-held devices and computers,” she said, “so reflecting that natural experience in our classrooms is incredibly important.”

Schwinn said computerized testing also holds promise for accommodating students with disabilities and provides for a more engaging experience for all students.

“When you look at the multiple-choice tests that we took in school and compare that to an online platform where students can watch videos, perform science experiments, do drag-and-drop and other features, students are just more engaged in the content,” she said.

“It’s a more authentic experience,” she added, “and therefore a better measure of learning.”

Schwinn plans to examine Tennessee’s overall state testing program to look for ways to reduce the number of minutes dedicated to assessment and also to elevate transparency.

She also will oversee the transition when one or more companies take over the state’s testing program beginning next school year. Former Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered a new request for proposals from vendors to provide paper testing for younger students and online testing for older ones. State officials have said they hope to award the contract by spring.

In Texas, a 2018 state audit criticized Schwinn’s handling of two major education contracts, including a no-bid special education contract that lost the state more than $2 million.

In Tennessee, an evaluation committee that includes programmatic, assessment, and technology experts will help to decide the new testing contract, and state lawmakers on the legislature’s Government Operations Committee plan to provide another layer of oversight.

Spring testing in Tennessee is scheduled to begin on April 15. You can learn more about TNReady on the state education department’s website.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information about problems with the handling of two education contracts in Texas. 

Class of 2018

Some Colorado schools see big gains in grad rates. Find yours in our searchable database.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Aurora Public Schools
Aurora West College Preparatory Academy graduates of 2018. The school had a 100 percent graduation rate.

Two metro-area school districts, Westminster and Aurora, recently in the state’s crosshairs for their low-performance, posted significant increases in their graduation rates, according to 2018 numbers released Wednesday.

Westminster, a district that got off the state’s watchlist just last year, had 67.9 percent of its students graduate on time, within four years of starting high school. That was a jump of 10 percentage points from its 57.8 percent graduation rate in 2017.

District officials credit their unique model of competency-based education, which does away with grade levels and requires students prove they mastered content before moving up a level. In previous years, district officials pointed to rising graduation rates that Colorado also tracks for students who take five, six or seven years, but officials say it was bound to impact their 4-year rates as well.

“We saw an upward tick across the board this past year,” said Westminster Superintendent Pam Swanson, referring to state test results and other data also showing achievement increasing. “I think this is one more indicator.”

Swanson said the high school has also focused recently on increasing attendance, now at almost 90 percent, and increasing students’ responsibility for their own learning.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

In Aurora schools, 76.5 percent of students graduated on time in 2018 — a jump of almost 9 percentage points from the 67.6 percent rate of the class of 2017.

“We’re excited these rates demonstrate momentum in our work,” Aurora Superintendent Rico Munn said.

He attributed the increased graduation rates to “better practice, better pedagogy, and better policy.”

One policy that made a difference for the district is a change in law that now allows districts to count students as graduates the year they complete their high school requirements, even if they are enrolled in one of Colorado’s programs to take college courses while doing a fifth year of high school.

According to a state report two years ago, Aurora had 65 students enrolled in this specific concurrent enrollment program who previously wouldn’t have been counted in four-year graduation rates. Only the Denver district has a larger number of such students. Aurora officials said 147 students are enrolled this year in the program.

Those students are successful, Munn said, and shouldn’t be counted against the district’s on-time graduation rates.

Aurora’s previously rising graduation rates helped it dodge corrective state action. But its improvement this year included a first: One high school, Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, had 100 percent of its seniors graduate in 2018.

The school enrolls students in grades six through 12 in northwest Aurora, the most diverse part of the district. Of the more than 1,000 students, 89 percent qualify for subsidized lunch, a measure of poverty.

“This incredible accomplishment demonstrates the strong student-focused culture we have created at Aurora West,” said Principal Taya Tselolikhina in a written statement. “When you establish high expectations and follow up with high levels of support, every student is able to shape a successful future.”

Statewide, the four-year graduation rate once again inched higher, and gaps between the graduation rate of white students and students of color again decreased. But this time, the gaps narrowed even as all student groups increased their graduation rates.

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

The rising trend wasn’t universal. In some metro area school districts, graduation rates fell in 2018. That includes Adams 14, the district that is now facing outside management after years of low performance.

The tiny school district of Sheridan, just southwest of Denver, saw a significant drop in graduation rates. In 2018, 64.7 percent of students graduated within four years, down from 72.7 percent of the class of 2017.

Look up four-year graduation rates for your individual school or district in our databases below.

Districts here: