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.

the grades are in

Search for your Indiana school’s 2018 A-F grades

PHOTO: Andersen Ross/Getty Images

Indiana schools’ 2018 A-F grades were released Wednesday, and most schools have two grades this year.

One grade is the usual annual rating from the state, which is mainly based on test scores and how much scores improve. These ratings can trigger intervention for schools receiving F grades several years in a row.

The other grade, which is new this year, comes from new federal standards under the Every Student Succeeds Act. This rating looks at how public schools serve students of color, students from low-income families, English learners, and students with disabilities.

The state measured schools more generously than the federal standards: Nearly two-thirds of schools received As or Bs under the Indiana system. About a third of schools received a higher letter grade in the state system than under federal standards.

Read more: Many Indiana schools receive F grades for how they serve students of color and those with disabilities

Read more: How many Indiana schools got As in 2018? Depends if state or feds are doing the grading.

Most schools didn’t see a change in their state grade from last year, a trend that continues because test scores remain largely stagnant.

New schools and schools that join the Indianapolis Public Schools innovation network can opt to be graded by the state for three years based only on how much their test scores improve — a measure known as growth — without factoring in passing rates.

Find your school’s A-F grades in our searchable database below.

Decision day

A state board decision on two long-struggling Pueblo schools could affect the entire district

PHOTO: Andrea Chu/Getty Images

A year after running out of chances to improve on their own, two Pueblo middle schools will be making a return appearance in front of the State Board of Education this week.

Heroes Middle School and Risley International Academy of Innovation have spent the last eight years on a watch list for low-performing schools. A year ago, the state board ordered them along with five school districts and 10 other schools to craft plans to improve — and warned them that too little progress could lead to sharper consequences in the future. It was the first time state regulators faced these decisions under Colorado’s school accountability system.

Many of the schools and districts on the state watchlist have managed to improve enough to avoid further intervention, including Bessemer Elementary, also in Pueblo City Schools.

But even after working with a nonprofit group to improve the quality of teaching, the two schools failed to advance on Colorado’s school rating system, which is largely based on performance on standardized tests. Their test scores left Heroes at the second lowest rating, where it has been for several years, and Risley on “turnaround,” the lowest possible rating, despite some improvement in some subject areas and grade levels.

On Wednesday, state board members will hold a hearing on the future of Heroes and Risley— along with the entire Adams 14 district and its high school. They’ll be taking into account recommendations from independent reviewers who visited the schools, the Pueblo district, students and their families, and advocates who have been lobbying throughout the process.

If the board members take the same approach they did last year, they’re likely to let the schools continue with “innovation” status, with some additional external management. But some state board members have expressed frustration with the pace of change, and they have more drastic options available to them, including closure or turning low-performing schools into charters.

At least in the case of Risley, the recommendation to largely stay the course comes despite grave concerns about the school. The evaluators gave a damning report, rating its leadership “not effective” at implementing change or even having the capacity to benefit from the help of an external partner.

The evaluators described chaotic classrooms in which students slept at their desks or openly played on their phones. In classrooms in which teachers were able to engage students, too many of them were “doing the cognitive work” for the students rather than leading them in real learning, they said.

The school is using too many new programs at once without enough training for teachers, with the result that most of them were not being implemented as intended, the evaluators said, and there isn’t enough coordination. In one example, the school had adopted new reading and math curriculum designed for 90-minute blocks, but the school’s schedule only allows for 75-minute periods.

But closing the school or turning it over to a charter organization would be worse options, evaluators said.

Conversion to a charter school would be divisive and unlikely to better serve students, they said, and there aren’t any nearby schools that could absorb the students if Risley were to close. “There are no other viable options for students that would likely lead to better outcomes,” the evaluators wrote.

What’s more, they wrote, the school serves as an “anchor” to the community — a view that community members expressed in comments submitted to the state board. Parents described using the health clinic associated with the school or getting food from the food pantry, as well as the pride their children felt in their sports teams, which provide positive and structured activities after school.

“As a parent, I feel better after each time I volunteer,” one mother wrote. “My daughter is a cheerleader here and I enjoy going to all her games and support her school and represent red and black and showing bear pride. I am looking forward to my son attending here in years to come.”

In several letters, students said they were having to take so many tests as part of the turnaround process that they were bored and stressed out and did not want to come to school.

“If we’re testing every month, when the real test comes around, we get tired of it and guess or click through,” one eighth-grade student said. “They’re stressing us out, and we don’t really need them. I understand you guys need to see where we are, but this many tests are not helping any of us.”

The state review panel assessment of Heroes was more positive, even as evaluators noted ongoing problems and recommended an additional external partner to help manage the school, not just provide instructional support.

“The school needs more time to see the full benefits of participation in the Innovation Zone, but implementation thus far has proven effective,” they wrote. “Leadership is developing and beginning to create positive change.”

At Heroes, evaluators did not recommend conversion to a charter school in part because the school serves a high population of students with disabilities. The middle school is also part of a K-8 school with one principal, and disentangling the elementary and middle school would have financial implications for both.

In response to written questions from the State Board of Education, Pueblo district officials said converting both schools to charters would have a serious financial impact on the entire school system. The district, which already faces declining enrollment and operates on a four-day week while staring down a $785 million maintenance backlog for its aging buildings, would lose almost $5 million a year in state funding if Risley and Heroes students all went to charter schools. The school district would also lose one of its newer buildings if Risley converted to a charter.

The opposition to a charter conversion is about more than money. In a letter, Barb Clementi, vice president of the school board in Pueblo, pointed to the example of a struggling school that was turned into a magnet school. While it has a good rating, it now serves a student population that is almost entirely different, and the former students continue to struggle in their new schools. Converting Risley or Heroes to charters runs the same risk, she said.

Risley and Heroes are part of an innovation zone that provides schools more flexibility but also allows teachers and administrators to work together. While the state review panel said both schools need to take more advantage of the zone, other Pueblo schools have come off the state watchlist using the innovation approach.

“I urge you to consider the bigger picture of our entire Pueblo community and school system when making decisions,” Clementi wrote. “These two middle school have made progress and deserve the time and opportunity to continue their good work with perhaps additional partnership support.”

Suzanne Ethredge, president of the Pueblo Education Association, the teachers union, said both schools have suffered from a lack of consistent leadership and significant teacher turnover, an issue that evaluators noted as well. She said any plan to improve the schools needs to take seriously the issue not just of training teachers but keeping them.

Some teachers and parents have asked for the schools to be turned into “community schools,” though letters to the state board indicate this approach has some serious skeptics as well.

“There is a lot of buy-in and a lot of people are looking to this model as a way to engage authentically with our community and dig in and find those root causes that are holding students back,” said Robert Donovan, an eighth-grade social studies teacher at Risley and member of the Pueblo Education Coalition.

Community schools incorporate a wide range of services for students and their families, ranging from meals, health clinics, and laundry service to English classes and job training. These schools work to engage parents in their children’s education, and in their most ideal version, parents play a big role in shaping educational decisions.

Teachers unions have been strong advocates for community schools in response to persistent low test scores, including in Pueblo and Adams 14. They argue that community schools address the social and economic problems that make it hard for students to succeed at school. Research on the academic impact of this approach is mixed.

More than 97 percent of Risley students qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty, compared to 80 percent for the district as a whole. Nearly 80 percent of Heroes students are from low-income families.

“The concerns expressed by our community fall into several areas, including authentic parent and community engagement, culturally relevant curriculum, a focus on high-quality teaching and learning, positive discipline practices, and mental health supports, to name a few,” reads the online petition. “The most powerful voices speaking about what is needed were, in fact, students. Based on this engagement, a community schools model … is the best fit for what we need and want in Pueblo.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, district officials will lay out their plans in more detail — they declined to talk to us before the meeting — and face tough questions from state board members, who have until Thursday to render a decision on the two Pueblo schools and the Adams 14 district, which could face significant loss of control.

This week’s decisions will mark a test of how the state board will deal with struggling schools going forward. Pueblo City Schools and Adams 14 have both described a process for finding additional outside partners if that’s what the state board orders, but it’s not entirely clear what that will look like on the ground.

And then it will fall back to principals, teachers, parents, and students to do the work.