Are Children Learning

Top scoring township and small city schools tend to serve wealthier children

Only three of the top 10 Marion County township and small city schools when it came to passing ISTEP in 2013-14 served a large share of high-poverty students.

It’s well known that there is a strong correlation between the family wealth of students who attend a school and the percentage of kids who pass standardized tests. Many studies have estimated between 60 and 70 percent of student’s score might be related to family income. But that effect is seen most strongly among the top scoring Marion County township and small city schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.

(ISTEP scores and grades for the 2014-15 school year are not expected to be released until late this year or early next year.)

Chalkbeat is publishing short profiles of the top-scoring, and lowest-scoring, Marion County public schools on ISTEP for three types of schools — Indianapolis Public Schools, charter schools and township and small city schools. Check out our past stories on the top-rated IPS schools, lowest-scoring IPS schools, the top-rated charter schools and lowest-scoring charter schools. Next week we’ll publish our final story in this series looking at the lowest-rated township and small city schools.

The merged city of Indianapolis and Marion County includes 11 separate school districts — Indianapolis Public Schools, nine township school districts and the small cities of Speedway and Beech Grove. Additionally, 18 charter schools operating in the city this year reported ISTEP scores in 2013-14.

Excluding IPS and charter schools, five of the top six public schools for passing ISTEP in Marion County, and seven of the top 10, were roughly at the state average of 49 percent or had a smaller share of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, the most common poverty measure for schools. To qualify, a family of four cannot earn more than $44,863 annually.

Not coincidentally, the list of top-scoring township and small city schools includes five from Franklin Township, which is easily the wealthiest school district in Marion County.

By comparison, seven of the 10 top-scoring IPS schools on ISTEP exceeded the state average of 49 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunch. All of the top 10 charter schools had at least half their students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

However, few of the IPS and charter schools had high enough passing rates to compete with the best-scoring township and small city schools. Only three IPS magnet schools would rank among the county’s top 10. Sidener Gifted Academy, which had the state’s top passing rate on ISTEP in 2013-14 at 100 percent, would obviously also be No.1 in Marion County. It would be joined by the Center For Inquiry School 84 and School 74, a Spanish-language immersion school.

Here’s a look at the county’s top 10 township and small city schools for passing ISTEP in 2013-14, plus the top-scoring schools for four townships that were not represented in the top 10:

Bunker Hill Elementary School

For the second year in a row, Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School ranked best in the county despite a slight dip from last year’s ISTEP passing rate of 91.2 percent. The small slide stopped a four-year upward trend in ISTEP scores since the school made a 17-point gain in 2010. It has maintained very strong test performance ever since. The school has been rated an A for five straight years.

Franklin Township's Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.
PHOTO: BobCatBeat.Net (John Overton High School)
Franklin Township’s Bunker Hill Elementary School has the highest passing rate among township schools on ISTEP in 2013-14.

In 2013-14, 90.2 percent of students passed ISTEP, ranking in the top 10 percent in the state, 16 percentage points above the state average of 74 percent passing.

The school is mostly below state averages for the percentage of children enrolled who have challenges that are often barriers to learning. About 34 percent of its enrollment comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The state average is 49 percent.

About 13 percent are in special education, and 6 percent are English-language learners. The state averages are 15 percent and 5 percent.

Bunker Hill is a large school with 576 students in grades K-5. About 75 percent are white, 6 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

Amy Beverland Elementary School

This Lawrence Township school, located near the Geist Reservoir, made a big leap in 2011 — a 20-point gain on ISTEP — that it has maintained and improved on over the past four years until it reached the top of the heap among Marion County schools this year, tied with last year’s No. 1 school Bunker Hill with 90.2 percent passing.

Four years of improved ISTEP scores helped Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township equal the county's top passing rate in 2013-14.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Four years of improved ISTEP scores helped Amy Beveralnd Elementary School in Lawrence Township equal the county’s top passing rate in 2013-14.

Amy Beverland Elementary School has been rated an A for three straight years since it jumped up from a C in 2011. The school has been above 85 percent passing for four years, an impressively high level of maintained performance. It’s prior high was 74 percent in 2008.

The school has very few children with challenges that are often barriers to learning. Only 21 percent of its enrollment comes from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Only 10 percent are in special education, and 3 percent are English-language learners, both below the state averages.

Amy Beverland is a very large school with about 760 students in grades 1-6. About 62 percent of the school’s students are white, 22 percent black and 4 percent Hispanic.

South Creek Elementary School

Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been a high-scoring, A-rated school for more than five years.

Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been rated an A for more than five years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Franklin Township’s South Creek Elementary School has been rated an A for more than five years.

Its 90.1 percent ISTEP passing rate was up slightly over the prior year’s 88.8 percent passing.

The school, serving 695 students in grades K-5, has had a passing rate better than 84 percent for five straight years.

Very few poor children attend South Creek compared to the average Indiana school. Just 19 percent of its students come from families poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. About 15 percent of its students are in special education, just above the state average, and 5 percent are English-language learners, which equaled the state average.

About 83 percent of the school’s students are white, 4 percent are Hispanic and 4 percent are black.

Mary Adams Elementary School

Mary Adams Elementary School in Franklin Township has been a high-scorer on ISTEP, making consistent gains for several years.

Several years of improving ISTEP scores helped Franklin Township's Mary Adams Elementary School crack the county's top 10.
Several years of improving ISTEP scores helped Franklin Township’s Mary Adams Elementary School crack the county’s top 10.

The school has seen five straight years of ISTEP scores that topped the prior year, and a corresponding 5 straight A-grades. Its 88.7 percent passing rate in 2013-14 was its highest rate in a decade, up almost 20 points from 69 percent passing in 2008.

About 38 percent of students at Mary Adams come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, below the state average.

It also has fewer children than the state average in special education and learning English as a new language at 12 and 4 percent respectively.

About 515 students in grade K-5 attend Mary Adams. About 81 percent are white, 4 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black.

James Allison Elementary School

This school in Speedway is the smallest in the top 10 with just 280 students in grades K-6, but it has been posting big gains.

James Allison Elementary School in Speedway has seen big gains on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
James Allison Elementary School in Speedway has seen big gains on ISTEP.

James Allison Elementary School has been rated an A for five straight years, but the past three have seen dramatic improvements on ISTEP. The school has made big gains in that time, with its passing rate up 18 percentage points from 70 percent in 2011.

James Allison serves by far the largest percentage of poor children of any school in the top 10 — about 80 percent of the students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The school also is very diverse. About 36 percent of students are white, 32 percent are black and 18 percent are Hispanic.

It has a large number of children who are learning English as a new language at 22 percent. About 11 percent are in special education.

Robey Elementary School

Wayne Township’s Robey Elementary School is the largest school in the top 10 with 865 students in grades K-6. The school has seen a remarkably steady rise to an A-grade the last three years, up from a D in 2010.

Improved test scores at Wayne Township's Robey Elementary School helped raise its grade to an A from a D in 2010.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Improved test scores at Wayne Township’s Robey Elementary School helped raise its grade to an A from a D in 2010.

The school has seen five straight years of ISTEP gains to 86.9 percent passing in 2013-14, a jump of 19 percentage points from 66 percent in 2010.

Robey roughly matches the state average when it comes to the number of children who are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 50 percent.

About 9 percent are in special education, and 6 percent are English-language learners.

The school is about 56 percent white, 24 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

Rosa Parks Elementary School

Perry Township’s Rosa Parks Elementary School is the product of a unique partnership over more than a decade.

    Rosa Parks Elementary School in Perry Township has been rated an A for five straight years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Rosa Parks Elementary School in Perry Township has been rated an A for five straight years.

The school opened in 2003 under the management of EdisonLearning, a New York-based company that was one of the first charter school networks in the country but which has shifted toward school management and other services. Rosa Parks was the second such partnership in Perry Township.

The school saw steady improvement in ISTEP scores until it peaked in 2011 at almost 94 percent passing, among the best in the state. But the past three years have seen small but steady declines. The school’s 86.6 percent passing rate in 2013-14 was still good enough to rank in the county’s top 10, however. The school has been rated an A for five straight years.

With about 664 students in grades K-5, Rosa Parks has fewer poor children than the average Indiana school at 33 percent. But it has more students in special education and learning English as a new language than the state averages at 17 and 10 percent, respectively.

About 72 percent of its students are white, 12 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic and 3 percent are black.

The school starts a new chapter this year. The Edison contract is over, and the district will now manage Rosa Parks Elementary.

Crooked Creek Elementary School

Crooked Creek Elementary School in Washington Township has seen strong and steady ISTEP scores with between 80 and 85 percent passing in the past few years.

Washington Township's Crooked Creek Elementary school has maintained a high ISTEP passing rate for several years.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Washington Township’s Crooked Creek Elementary school has maintained a high ISTEP passing rate for several years.

In 2013-14, 84.6 percent passed ISTEP, which was down slightly from the prior year. The school has been rated an A by the state for five straight years.

Crooked Creek is a large school with about 700 students in grades K-5. With 66 percent of students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, it has the second-highest poverty rate of any school in the top 10.

About 13 percent of students are in special education, and 9 percent are English-language learners.

The school is very diverse. About 45 percent of students are black, 32 percent are white and 11 percent are Hispanic.

Thompson Crossing Elementary School

After a five-year climb in its ISTEP passing rate, Franklin Township’s Thompson Crossing Elementary School posted the same 84 percent passing in 2013-14 as the prior year.

Thompson Creek Elementary School's strong test scores helped it earn an A for the second straight year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Thompson Creek Elementary School’s strong test scores helped it earn an A for the second straight year.

The steady gains helped push the school to an A from a B in 2012-13, and the school kept the A for a second straight year.

Serving about 610 students in grades K-5, Thompson Crossing has fewer poor children than the average Indiana school.

About 40 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 10 percent are in special education, and 5 percent are English-language learners. The school’s enrollment is about 71 percent white, 9 percent Hispanic and 8 percent black.

Arlington Elementary School

Franklin Township’s Arlington Elementary School has held steady with good grades and high test scores for five years.

Despite a high poverty student body by Franklin Township's standards, Arlington Elementary has been a consistent high scorer on ISTEP.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Despite a high poverty student body by Franklin Township’s standards, Arlington Elementary has been a consistent high scorer on ISTEP.

Its ISTEP passing rate has not been below 80 percent since 2009, and it has earned an A for five straight years. About 83.5 percent of students passed ISTEP in 2013-14.

The school is one of just three in the top 10 that exceed the state average for the percent of children who come from families poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 60 percent.

Serving about 600 students in grades K-5, about 16 percent are in special education, and 4 percent are English-language learners.

The school is about 79 percent white, 10 percent Hispanic, 3 percent black and 3 percent Asian.

Top schools for other districts

Four other Marion County school districts don’t have any schools ranked in the top 10, but each has at least one school that was close. Those schools are:

Eagle Creek Elementary School

In 2013-14, Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School finished out of the top 10, but would have made it had its scores not slipped a bit from the prior year.

Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School has earned five straight A grades.
Pike Township’s Eagle Creek Elementary School has earned five straight A grades.

The school saw 79.3 percent pass ISTEP, but that was down from 85.1 percent the year before. It was still good enough to earn the school its fifth consecutive A-grade.

With about 514 students in grades K-5, Eagle Creek is among the more diverse schools with high test scores.

About 45 percent of its students are black, 25 percent are white and 18 percent are Hispanic.

The school has a very high percentage of students learning English as a new language at 17 percent. About 12 percent of students are in special education.

Eagle Creek is very close to the state average for the percentage of students who come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch at 52 percent.

Grassy Creek Elementary School

In 2009, only about half of the students at Warren Township’s Grassy Creek Elementary School passed ISTEP. But a six-year climb in its passing rate to 77.4 percent in 2013-14 put the school at the top of the heap in the district and among the county’s best.

Warren Township's Grassy Creek Elementary School has made six straight years of gains on ISTEP.
Warren Township’s Grassy Creek Elementary School has made six straight years of gains on ISTEP.

Grassy Creek dropped to a C from an A in 2012 but rebounded the past two years. It has earned four A-grades in five years.

It has done all that despite higher poverty than most of the high-scoring schools in Marion County.

About 66 percent of students come from families that are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced price lunch.

With about 420 students in grades K-4, the school is very diverse. About 48 percent of the students are black, 32 percent are white and 10 percent are Hispanic.

South Grove Intermediate School

South Grove Intermediate School serves a lot of students in a narrow band of grades with 650 kids in grades 4-6.

South Grove Intermediate School raised its grade to an A last year.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
South Grove Intermediate School raised its grade to an A last year.

It’s also a high-poverty school, with about 74 percent of students coming from families that are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and it has a large share of students who are in special education at 19 percent.

Despite those challenges, the school raised its grade to an A in 2013-14, up from a B and a C the prior two years.

With 76.1 percent passing, the school maintained a five-year streak with at least 70 percent passing.

South Grove is about 79 percent white, 7 percent black and 6 percent Hispanic. About 2 percent of its students are learning English as a new language.

Blue Academy

Blue Academy is Decatur Township’s science, technology, engineering and math-focused elementary school, serving 580 students in grades 1-6.

Blue Academy in Decatur Township is a high-scoring school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.
PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Blue Academy in Decatur Township is a high-scoring school focused on science, technology, engineering and math.

It earned an A in 2013-14 after being a C school for three of the prior four years.

ISTEP scores have been going up over six years, reaching 76.1 percent in 2013-14 compared with 57 percent in 2009. The school serves a large share of poor children, with about 68 percent coming from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

About 10 percent of students are learning English as a new language. Only 8 percent are in special education.

Blue Academy’s students are 67 percent white, 13 percent black and 13 percent Hispanic.

Detroit Story Booth

Why one woman thinks special education reform can’t happen in isolation

PHOTO: Colin Maloney
Sharon Kelso, student advocate from Detroit

When Sharon Kelso’s kids and grandkids were still in school, they’d come home and hear the same question from her almost every day: “How was your day in school?” One day, a little over a decade ago, Kelso’s grandson gave a troubling answer. He felt violated when security guards at his school conducted a mass search of students’ personal belongings.

Kelso, a Cass Tech grad, felt compelled to act. Eventually, she became the plaintiff in two cases which outlawed unreasonable mass searches of students in Detroit’s main district.

Fast forward to August, when her three great-nephews lost both their mother and father in the space of a week and Kelso became their guardian. Today, she asks them the same question she has asked two generations of Detroit students: “How was your day in school?”

The answers she receives still deeply inform her advocacy work.

Watch the full video here:

– Colin Maloney

First Person

Why the phrase ‘with fidelity’ is an affront to good teaching

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

“With fidelity” are some of the most damaging words in education.

Districts spend a ton of money paying people to pick out massively expensive, packaged curriculums, as if every one of a thousand classrooms needs the exact same things. Then officials say, over and over again, that they must be implemented “with fidelity.” What they mean is that teachers better not do anything that would serve their students’ specific needs.

When that curriculum does nothing to increase student achievement, it is not blamed. The district person who found it and purchased it is never blamed. Nope. They say, “Well, the teachers must not have been implementing it with fidelity.”

It keeps happening because admitting that schools are messy and students are human and teaching is both creative and artistic would also mean you have to trust teachers and let them have some power. Also, there are some really crappy teachers out there, and programs for everyone are often meant to push that worst-case-scenario line a little higher.

And if everyone’s doing just what they’re supposed to, we’ll get such good, clean numbers, and isn’t that worth a few thousand more dollars?

I was talking with a friend recently, a teacher at an urban school on the East Coast. He had been called to task by his principal for splitting his kids into groups to offer differentiated math instruction based on students’ needs. “But,” the principal said, “did the pacing guide say to differentiate? You need to trust the system.”

I understand the desire to find out if a curriculum “works.” But I don’t trust anyone who can say “trust the system” without vomiting. Not when the system is so much worse than anything teachers would put together.

Last year, my old district implemented Reading Plus, an online reading program that forces students to read at a pace determined by their scores. The trainers promised, literally promised us, that there wasn’t a single reading selection anywhere in the program that could be considered offensive to anyone. God knows I never learned anything from a book that made me feel uncomfortable!

Oh, and students were supposed to use this program — forced-paced reading of benign material followed by multiple-choice questions and more forced-pace reading — for 90 minutes a week. We heard a lot about fidelity when the program did almost nothing for students (and, I believe quite strongly, did far worse than encouraging independent reading of high-interest books for 90 minutes a week would have done).

At the end of that year, I was handed copies of next year’s great adventure in fidelity. I’m not in that district any longer, but the whole district was all switching over to SpringBoard, another curriculum, in language arts classes. On came the emails about implementing with fidelity and getting everyone on the same page. We were promised flexibility, you know, so long as we also stuck to the pacing guide of the workbook.

I gave it a look, I did, because only idiots turn down potential tools. But man, it seemed custom-built to keep thinking — especially any creative, critical thought from either students or teachers — to a bare minimum.

I just got an email from two students from last year. They said hi, told me they missed creative writing class, and said they hated SpringBoard, the “evil twin of Reading Plus.”

That district ran out of money and had to cut teachers (including me) at the end of the year. But if they hadn’t, I don’t think I would have lasted long if forced to teach from a pacing guide. I’m a good teacher. Good teachers love to be challenged and supported. They take feedback well, but man do we hate mandates for stuff we know isn’t best for the kids in our room.

Because, from inside a classroom full of dynamic, chaotic brilliance;

from a classroom where that kid just shared that thing that broke all of our hearts;

from a classroom where that other kid figured out that idea they’ve been working on for weeks;

from that classroom where that other kid, who doesn’t know enough of the language, hides how hard he works to keep up and still misses things;

and from that classroom where one kid isn’t sure if they trust you yet, and that other kid trusts you too much, too easily, because their bar had been set too low after years of teachers that didn’t care enough;

from inside that classroom, it’s impossible to trust that anyone else has a better idea than I do about what my students need to do for our next 50 minutes.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher living in Minneapolis who was named Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year in 2014. His book, “It Won’t Be Easy: An Exceedingly Honest (and Slightly Unprofessional) Love Letter to Teaching,” was published in April. He can be found on Twitter @mrtomrad and writes on misterrad.tumblr.com, where this post first appeared.