Report cards in for area schools

Bartholomew County schools received report card grades that would make parents proud, as every area school rated an “A” or “B” for the first time since 2011.

The Indiana Department of Education on Tuesday released its 2016 A-F accountability grades for schools, which now have 30 days to appeal their grade to the Indiana State Board of Education.

District grades are scheduled to be released to the public after the board approves them, department spokeswoman Samantha Hart said.

Significant improvements were scored by Clifty Creek Elementary School, which went from being rated as “D” for 2014 and 2015 to a “B” this year. Taylorsville Elementary School, which had been rated at “C” for the past two years, also moved up to a “B.”

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Hope Elementary, another school that had worked its way out of “D” and “F” grades over the past five years, held steady at “B,” a ranking it has maintained since 2014.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek Superintendent Shawn Price said the corporation was extremely pleased with the results, especially Hope Elementary’s continued progress and growth.

Price said Hope Elementary’s success has been part of an intentional effort toward improvement, and credited Principal Jessica Poe, hired in 2015, for the great strides the school has achieved. He also credited the school’s staff for working as a cohesive team with efforts to look at ways to help individual students be successful.

“Honestly, with all the controversy with ISTEP+, our schools and teachers are going to continue to do what’s best for the students,” he said.

Noting that the next legislative session may bring large changes to the current standardized testing system, Price said this year’s scores will be a huge step in moving Hope Elementary off a priority status label with the state.

Release of the grades makes it possible for school corporations to finalize their teacher evaluations, with a piece of that evaluation tool being the school grade.

“It has an impact linked to compensation,” Price said.

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. Superintendent Jim Roberts said his school corporation has known for some time about the positive grade report. Roberts said he is proud of all the staff members who have worked so hard to achieve it.

“But we try really hard not to get too excited about this,” he said, noting that the grades are based on a formula and assessments that have changed and are not the same as previous years.

“Comparisons have been a challenge on this,” he said.

While the high school formula has built in graduation rates and other career-preparation data into its formula leading to a letter grade, the elementaries and middle schools rely more heavily on the ISTEP+ for the performance standards, he said.

“I wish they would add a few more factors into those formulas,” Roberts said.

New to the corporation this year, Roberts said he was proud of the work by Clifty Creek and Taylorsville staff, as those schools had experienced low grade scores in the past.

“It’s tough when you work so hard and you get a letter grade that’s not as good as you want it to be,” he said.

“They have been working as hard as anybody in the country,” Roberts said. “I’m very proud of all of them.”

While Bartholomew County, including its private schools, found optimism in Tuesday’s announcement, statewide the results were more sobering.

After a change in the method to calculate the school accountability grades, Indiana overall had more failing schools and fewer schools with “A” ratings, the data shows.

Failing schools increased by 3.5 percentage points while schools earning an “A” dropped by 31.8 percentage points, thestatehousefile.com reported.

Among the BCSC schools that fell from “A” status to “B” with this year’s standards were Parkside, Schmitt and Smith elementary schools. However, Columbus North High School moved from “B” to “A” with this year’s standards.

Members of the State Board of Education said some of the shift is connected to the new manner in which the accountability grades are calculated, rewarding a school’s growth as well as other career-readiness standards.

“This year, Indiana implemented a new student-centered school accountability system utilizing Indiana’s new, more rigorous standards and assessments for the first time,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in a statement. “For those reasons, the 2015-16 school year establishes a new baseline for school accountability grades in Indiana.”

Additionally, legislators passed a law to prevent a school’s grade from being unfavorably affected by the 2015 ISTEP scores, a key factor in the accountability formula. Legislators called 2015 a transition year with higher standards and a new test, leading to significantly lower test scores.

After the ISTEP scores dipped again in 2016, school officials are already discussing trying to get accountability grades to be held harmless once again.

About the scores

School accountability grades are determined by the Indiana Department of Education, which rates public and private schools on an A-F scale. Various factors contribute to a school’s accountability grade, including ISTEP+ results in elementary and middle schools and graduation rates in high schools.

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To see how Bartholomew County schools were graded since 2011, see Page XX.

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Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.