Are Children Learning

More Hoosier schools got As from the state in 2017. But most school grades didn’t change.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Angie Kendall, a master teacher at Southport Elementary School, works with a student. The school received an A from the state this year.

As with this year’s ISTEP scores, not much changed when it came to 2017 A-F grades for Indiana schools.

Compared to 2016, almost a quarter of schools improved by one or more letter grades in 2017, and about the same number saw grades drop. But more than half of schools ended up with the same grade as last year. This is not surprising, because test passing rates have been stagnant across the state — and tests are still major factors in the state accountability grades.

Find your school’s 2017 ISTEP scores here

The Indiana State Board of Education released 2017 A-F school grades at its meeting today.

“I am encouraged by the results of our current accountability grades as an indication of the great education Indiana students are receiving,” said state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick in a statement. “Our work, however, is not finished.”

The number of A-rated schools increased slightly from last year to almost 30 percent. The number of F-rated schools barely changed at almost 6 percent. Almost two-thirds of schools received an A or B (the same percent as last year), while 15 percent received a D or F, virtually unchanged.

This is the second year that Indiana has used a new accountability system that equally weights test score improvement and passing rates. Adding in the test improvement shows how schools are tackling the tougher tests that are part of more rigorous academic standards that started in 2014.

When you separate proficiency from test score growth, a little more than 2 percent of schools received the highest passing rates for elementary and middle school students, while almost three quarters improved. Even though it remains difficult for schools to get students to high scores, most seem to be getting students to do better than last year. In high schools, even fewer students are at or above proficiency, but most are showing growth as well.

Board member David Freitas said he worries that the test score improvement piece is overshadowing how few schools are meeting a “minimum competency.”

“I’m concerned that the growth data … is masking a real problem in Indiana,” Freitas said. “Only 14 percent of (elementary) schools are in the A and B category. That is very, very serious.”

Poor grades can bring consequences for schools such as state intervention or takeover.

But the state’s A-F model is expected to change. A new plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will bring more factors into state grades, such as English proficiency of students learning English and a non-test-based measure like attendance. It’s not yet clear how that will affect the distribution of grades across the state.

However, the state isn’t ready to adopt the new model just yet. Instead, Indiana will issue schools two sets of metrics for 2018 — one grade from the state and another that will be reported to the federal government.

Read: Indiana has a curious plan to sidestep federal rules — give schools two A-F grades next year.

Indiana 2017 A-F grade breakdown

Grade Number of schools Percent of schools
A 620 29.5 percent
B 688 32.7 percent
C 454 21.6 percent
D 190 9 percent
F 124 5.9 percent
No grade 28 1.3 percent

Marion County 2017 A-F grade breakdown

Grade Number of schools Percent of schools
A 32 17.3 percent
B 35 18.9 percent
C 38 20.5 percent
D 42 22.7 percent
F 37 20 percent
No grade 1 0.5 percent

Find your school’s 2017 grade using our interactive database.

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, where this post first appeared.