Struggling schools

Low state ISTEP test scores landed these 10 Indianapolis Public Schools at the bottom

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Indianapolis middle school students have long struggled on state standardized exams, but a new, tougher ISTEP test in 2015 produced some abysmal results for middle schoolers in the state’s largest school district.

Of the ten IPS schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores last year, six were schools serving middle schoolers.

Their scores were so low that at some schools, the percentage of students who passed the exam were in the single digits.

Several of those middle school students attend combined high schools for grades 6-12 or 7-12. At some of them, high school students score well. But since ISTEP is administered only in grades 3-8, the middle grades are treated as a separate school for reporting purposes.

Chalkbeat last week highlighted the top 10 IPS schools that beat odds on the 2015 exam. Those schools managed to do comparatively well on the test even as the average Indiana school saw a 19 percentage point drop in the number of students who passed the exam in 2015 compared with 2014.

The ten schools at the bottom of the list for IPS showed even deeper declines than their peers across the state. Many of those are facing additional challenges including large numbers of poor students, English language learners and students with special needs.

Here’s at look at the 10 schools that posted the lowest ISTEP scores in the district:

Crispus Attucks Junior High School

Just 15 percent of middle school students at Crispus Attucks High School passed ISTEP in 2015, down 31 percentage points from last year.

Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Crispus Attucks High School is a medical magnet school in IPS.

Crispus Attucks is a medical magnet high school located downtown that is a high performer. Its high school students have earned the school an A on the state school report card for four straight years based on end-of-course exams and other factors.

But on ISTEP, the 647 students in grades 6 to 8 have earned three consecutive F grades.

About 71 percent of the middle school students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the same as the districtwide average. To qualify, a family cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

The middle school students are 56 percent black, 31 percent Hispanic and 5 percent white. The district averages are 49 percent black, 25 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white.

About 9 percent of students were in special education and 13 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available. The district averages for that year were 18 percent in special education and 16 percent English language learners.

School 42

The passing rate for School 42 also dropped by a large amount, down 31 percentage points from 2014.

ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.
ISTEP scores at School 42 fell more than most schools in 2015.

That dropped the school into the bottom 10 in IPS.

Also called Elder W. Diggs Elementary School, this is is a neighborhood school on the city’s North side with 517 students.

Its grade fell to an F in 2012 and has stayed there for four straight years.

The school has very high student poverty: about 78 percent of School 42’s students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Most students are minorities — 82 percent are black, 10 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent white.

Nearly a quarter of the school’s students were in special education classes — 23 percent –and 1 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 69

Also called Joyce Kilmer Elementary School and located on the North side of Indianapolis, School 69 got an A from the state in 2010 but has earned four straight F’s since then.

Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Next year, IPS School 69 will be managed by Kindezi Academy, a charter school.

Next year, the school will be managed by the charter school network that operates Enlace, a charter school housed in an IPS building. School 69 will be following the model IPS used at School 103, which last summer was handed over to Phalen Leadership Academies charter school network last fall to be independently managed.

The school, serving about 375 students, saw its passing rate fall by 29 percentage points to 13 percent in 2015.

That reversed a trend that had seen scores improving strongly for three straight years. Still, the school has been among the district’s lowest scorers even as scores were going up.

Like most IPS neighborhood schools, School 69 struggles with the challenges of serving a very high poverty student body.

About 83 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 86 percent of kids enrolled are black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

About 17 percent of students were in special education, and less than 1 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Broad Ripple Junior High School

With about 13 percent of middle school students passing ISTEP in 2015, Broad Ripple’s passing rate fell by 31 percentage points.

Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Broad Ripple high School has a divide between the test performance of its high school and middle school students.

Like Crispus Attucks, Broad Ripple has a big divide between high school and middle school test performance. That’s part of the reason IPS has a plan to shift middle school students out of Broad Ripple.

The high school has earned four straight B grades based on high school passing rates, but the middle school scores have earned the school three straight F grades.

About 72 percent of middle schools students are from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The middle school students are 66 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 7 percent white.

About 18 percent of students were in special education and 9 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 103

School 103, also called Francis Scott Key Elementary School, is in the midst of a high profile overhaul.

The Northeast side neighborhood school, which has been among the worst in the district for test scores for years, was handed over by IPS to be managed under a contract by Phalen Leadership Academy charter school. The district is now working on following that model with outside partnerships to run low-scoring schools.

IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.
IPS is looking to create more autonomy schools and innovation schools such as its partnership with Phalen Leadership Academy to run School 103.

The 2015 ISTEP scores reflect the last year of IPS management for School 103. Just less than 10 percent of the school’s students passed the test, down from 15 percent in 2014. The 2016 scores will be the first since Phalen took over. The passing percentage had been falling since 2009.

School 103 faces many of the difficult challenges of most IPS schools.

About 74 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 83 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 3 percent white. About 21 percent of the school’s student were in special education and 9 percent were English-language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

George Washington Junior High School

Fewer than one in 10 middle school students at George Washington High School passed ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school ISTEP scores were low at George Washington High School.

George Washington is a West side high school that has been troubled for more than a decade. It was nearly taken over by the state for low test scores in 2012, but IPS has been allowed to continue managing the school.

Last year’s 9 percent passing rate cut last year’s passing rate with a big drop over 2014 when 18 percent of students passed the test. That earned the middle school its third consecutive F. About 255 students in grades 7 and 8 attend the school.

About 75 percent of George Washington’s middle school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school is 45 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white.

A huge 36 percent of students were in special education and 11 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

School 44

Just 8 percent of students at School 44 passed ISTEP in 2015, down 22 percentage points from the prior year.

Also called Riverside Elementary School, the school is located on the city’s North side. The school earned its fourth consecutive F last year.

School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
School 44 might be run by a charter school network next year.

Those results have IPS looking to make changes. Like School 69, School 44 also is being considered for outside management under contract next year.

School 44 appears poised to host Global Prep Academy, a new dual-language charter school to be run by Mariama Carson, a former decorated Pike Township principal who is developing the concept with support from a fellowship from The Mind Trust.

About 85 percent of School 44’s students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Roughly 64 percent of students are black, 25 percent Hispanic and 9 percent white.

Those in special education made up about 16 percent of students, and about 4 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, the last year for which data is available.

Arlington Junior High School

Arlington High School was one of the lowest scoring schools in Indiana in 2012, which is why it was one of the first five schools to be taken over by the state that year.

Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Arlington High School returned to IPS last fall after being managed independently in state takeover by a charter school network.

It was managed externally by Tindley Accelerated Schools, a charter school network until Tindley pulled out at the end of the last school year.

IPS took control of the school last fall, so these scores reflect the last school year of Tindley’s management.

IPS recently relocated all of Arlington’s middle school students to a restricted area of the building to limit contact with high school students.

When it came to middle school, the scores were very low: 6 percent passed in 2015.

Arlington has 273 students in grades 7 and 8. About 72 percent qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. The school is 87 percent black, six percent Hispanic and 4 percent white.

No data is available for the percent of middle school students who are in special education or learning English as a new language.

Northwest Junior High School

Northwest High School has long been one of the lowest-scoring schools in Indiana when it comes to state exams. Last year was no exception.

Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggled on ISTEP in 2015.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Middle school students at Northwest High school continued to struggle on ISTEP in 2015.

Middle school students this year had among the very lowest scores in the state in 2015 as just less than 6 percent of them passed ISTEP.

That’s down 15 percentage points from the year before. The middle school students’ scores have earned Northwest four consecutive F grades.

The school has 306 students in grades 7 and 8. About 81 percent come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

The school is about 60 percent black, 26 percent Hispanic and 8 percent white.

About 21 percent of the school’s middle school students were in special education and 20 percent were English language learners in 2014-15, that last year for which data is available.

John Marshall Junior High School

Ranking lowest of any IPS school for percent passing ISTEP in 2015 was John Marshall High School’s middle school students.

Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the worst in IPS.
Middle school test scores at John Marshall were the lowest in IPS.

Just 3 percent of 287 students in grades 7 and 8 at the school passed the state exam.

The middle school students’ scores have earned John Marshall an F grade for four straight years.

The school faces the challenges of high poverty. About 76 percent of its students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. The middle school students are 69 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and 12 percent white.

About 27 percent of middle school students at the school are in special education an 9 percent are English language learners.

Trezevant fallout

Memphis orders a deeper probe into high school grade changes

The firm hired to assess the pervasiveness of grade changes in Memphis high schools has begun a deeper probe into those schools with the highest number of cases.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the firm plans to “search for documentation and figure out what happened” at those schools, noting that not all grade changes — changing a failing grade to passing — are malfeasant.

Still, Hopson promised to root out any wrongdoing found.

“Equally important is figuring out whether people are still around changing grades improperly, and creating different internal controls to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he told Chalkbeat on Thursday.

Dixon Hughes Goodman, an accounting firm from North Carolina, was hired over the summer as grade tampering was confirmed at Trezevant High School. The firm’s report found the average number of times high schools changed a failing final grade to passing was 53. Ten high schools were highlighted in the report as having 199 or more grade changes between July 2012 and October 2016.

Source: Dixon Hughes Goodman

The report was one of several released Tuesday by the Shelby County Schools board following an investigation instigated by allegations in a resignation letter from former Trezevant Principal Ronnie Mackin.

The firm’s analysis concluded that “additional investigation around grade changes is warranted,” prompting Shelby County Schools to extend the firm’s contract to dig deeper.

The investigations have already cost the school system about $500,000, said Rodney Moore, the district’s general counsel. It is unclear how much the contract extension for Dixon Hughes Goodman will cost, but board chairwoman Shante Avant said it is less than $100,000, the threshold for board approval.

Hopson said there’s not a timeline for when the school audits will be complete. He said the district is already thinking through how to better follow-up on grade changes.

“For a long time, we really put a lot of faith and trust in schools and school-based personnel,” he said. “I don’t regret that because the majority do what they’re supposed to do every day… (but) we probably need to do a better job to follow up to verify when grade changes happen.”

Avant said the board will determine what policies should be enacted to prevent further grade tampering based on the outcome of the investigation.

“The board is conscious that although we know there’s been some irregularities, we do want to focus on moving forward and where resources can be better used and how we’re implementing policies and strategies so that this won’t happen again,” she said.

Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this report.

Digging in

We’re reading all 279 pages of what investigators found out about Memphis schools. Join us!

Shelby County Schools this week released two reports detailing the results of investigations stemming from allegations of grade tampering at Trezevant High School.

The big story? Grade changes are pervasive in many Memphis high schools.

That doesn’t mean that all grade changes reflect illicit behavior, but there’s a lot more to learn. Nearly 300 pages are now posted on the district’s website.

As you read the reports, we want to know what you’re thinking. Pick any section that interests you and leave a comment sharing your thoughts and reactions. And let us know what page and report you’re looking at.

Here’s an example we found on page 12 of Butler Snow’s report about the district’s internal review of Trezevant before bringing in several outside investigators last June:

On October 5, 2016, (Bill) White announced his team’s initial findings with respect to the scope and impact of the transcript adjustments on students that were currently enrolled in the SCS, stating:
We have identified 131 students currently enrolled in the district whose
transcripts were altered by a staff member of Trezevant . . . All of these students
were previously enrolled at Trezevant at some point during their time in high
school. 92 of these students are still enrolled at Trezevant, 44 of whom are
seniors. The remaining 39 (of the 131) are now enrolled in 22 different high
schools. Of these 39 students, 15 are seniors. (Other schools will be contacted as
needed.)

The 258-page report by Butler Snow & Dixon Hughes Goodman covers:

  • General allegations in former principal Ronnie Mackin’s June 1 resignation letter, such as improper conduct, a cover-up of transcript changes and “maltreatment”;
  • Review of instances of transcript changes at all Shelby County Schools high schools

The report by Ogletree Deakins is 21 pages long and covers:

  • Allegations of improper sexual advances and racial discrimination

As always, you can follow Chalkbeat’s ongoing coverage of this and other education stories via our homepage, Facebook and Twitter — and be sure to sign up in the red box here for our daily Rise & Shine newsletter. It’s a free and efficient way to stay in the know about the most important K-12 education news in Tennessee.