Indianapolis Public Schools continue to lag behind on ISTEP scores

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Oct. 3, 2018

Only one in five Indianapolis Public School students passed both the English and math  portions of the ISTEP exam administered last spring, making it one of the lowest-performing school districts in the state and the lowest-performing in Marion County.

IPS officials released a statement Wednesday acknowledging the challenges facing the district.

“Like many districts across the state, Indianapolis Public Schools continues to see some challenges in its ISTEP proficiency scores,” the district said. “IPS continues to gain insights into the many factors that can impact student learning and is being more strategic about district supports.”

While IPS is home to some of the state’s top performing schools – both through its magnet offerings and the charter schools in its Innovation Schools Network – it is also home to some of the lowest and on the  whole, IPS continues to struggle. Only five percent of students attending one of IPS’ traditional high schools passed both the English and math portions of the grade 10 ISTEP.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee acknowledged the district’s struggles on the grade 10 exam, attributing them, at least in part, to a rocky year for the district’s high schools.

Last fall, IPS announced it would close three high schools and overhaul the programming offered at the remaining four high schools. Ferebee said that while the moves the district made were necessary and should pay off in the long run, they were also painful and presented challenges for both students and teachers.

“We knew there were going to be some consequences from some of those decisions,” he said.

He cautioned, though, drawing too many conclusions from proficiency data alone — a metric that favors more affluent districts where students often enter school more prepared and already on grade level.

While proficiency data — the number of students who pass the exams — garners a lot of attention, many districts say they’re concerned, too, about growth data — the degree to which students improve year to year. While that data will come out later in the year, IPS said it looks better than proficiency data does.

“Our preliminary growth data looks promising and appears to be moving in the right direction,” the district said.

At the high school level, only Shortridge performed at or above the state average. It was the district’s smallest high school last year, home to the district’s International Baccalaureate program. Of the 87 10th grade students who took both the English and math exams, 34.5 percent passed both — just above the state average.

The six additional IPS high schools that administered the ISTEP test last spring all had passing rates of five percent or less. Just 22 students, or 5.3 percent, who took the test at Arlington High School passed both portions.

The number of students at Washington, Attucks, Broad Ripple and Northwest high schools were in the single digits. None of Arlington High School’s 171 students that took both English and math portions passed both.

Herron High School, a previously independent charter school that has joined the Innovation Network, remains among the highest-performing high schools in the state. Nearly two-thirds of students at Herron passed both math and English portions.

Three IPS schools serving grades K-8 performed above the state average for combined math and English ISTEP scores. All three are magnet schools serving a student population that’s whiter and more affluent than the district as a whole.

Sidener Academy was the district’s highest-performing school and one of the highest-performing in the state with nearly 90 percent of students passing both the math and English portions of the exam.

Two of the district’s popular Center for Inquiry schools also bested the state average: 80.4 percent of students at CFI 84 passed both portions and 54.2 percent did so at CFI 2.

Of the 62 IPS schools that received ISTEP scores last year, 36 saw their scores decline from the previous year. Proficiency rates at schools run by IPS have declined over the past several years, but a bright spot may be found in its Innovation Network Schools where proficiency schools have been more stable.

“We continue to feel good about the progress many of the innovation schools are making,” said Brandon Brown, CEO of the Mind Trust, a nonprofit that supports many of those schools. “While the progress this year was much more mild, we still think the trend is positive for innovation schools. We continue to see improvements as the state goes down.”

Ferebee said the district will continue to look at the Innovation Network as one of several strategies to boost struggling schools.

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