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Struggling school to get public feedback

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After earning an F for the third consecutive year in the Indiana Department of Education’s accountability system, Clifty Creek Elementary School must demonstrate to the public and to the state that leaders have an improvement plan.

The school has been designated a priority school based on poor standardized test performance. Therefore, the state requires it to collect public input during a hearing, which will be during Monday’s regular board meeting.

Director of Elementary Education Teresa Heiny will use that time to deliver a report explaining the accountability system and outlining Clifty Creek’s progress and goals.

Some of that will be old news, Superintendent John Quick said.

“We’ve already done a lot of restructuring of the school,” he said. “We just haven’t gotten them over the hump yet.”

In response to the first F in 2011, the school hired 15 teachers with project-based learning experience, replaced former principal Adam Ulrich with Cynthia Frost and invested $2 million in technology upgrades, including interactive white boards and laptops.

But change takes time.

“If you look at research, it takes five years when you make a change before you start seeing it,” Heiny said.

In the meantime, the school has outlined concrete ISTEP+ goals for 2014:

70 percent of students in Grades 3-6 will pass the English/language arts portion

85 percent of students in Grades 3-6 will score a minimum of 1 point on the literacy text/nonfiction applied skills portion

70 percent of students in Grades 3-6 will pass the math portion.

“These goals look pretty dramatic because they are pretty dramatic,” Heiny said.

But Acuity scores suggest those goals may be attainable.

The test, given several times a year to track progress, is considered a predictor of ISTEP+ performance. Scores improved between grade levels and between cohorts — the third-graders who took the test this year performed better than the third-graders last year, and the third-graders who took the test in 2012 performed better this year at the fourth-grade level.

There is still cause for concern, Quick said.

Flaws exist in the way the state calculates the school grades, he said. It is a complex model considering performance and participation in standardized testing, but it also takes student growth into account.

The current Indiana Growth Model takes a student’s ISTEP+ score one year and groups that student with all other students in the state with the same score. The state then looks at all those scores in the following year to determine the growth of individual students compared with peers.

“Eventually it will be more about individual growth,” Quick said. “It shouldn’t be Johnny vs. Joey, it should be Johnny vs. Johnny. It can make a difference.”

He said cohorts aren’t always equal — disadvantaged students are compared with students in affluent areas.

Schools must administer the test online again, and Quick said the district has little faith in the test vendor after last year’s glitches.

“Had there not been the online snafu last year, we think we would already be there,” he said.

Clifty Creek must get a C grade or above to get off the state’s priority school list, during a time when discussions are going on statewide about changing the assessment system.

“We just keep focusing on continued improvement,” Heiny said.

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