Clifty Creek Elementary School took matters into its hands when it got an F last year on the state’s A-F Accountability scale.
That meant dividing classes into groups. Holding after-school tutoring programs. Anything to help students pass the ISTEP-Plus exam, a key component in determining state letter grades.
The Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus exam, a state-mandated test for students in Grades 3-8, is administered annually to measure students’ proficiency in English/language arts, math and science and in social studies for seventh-graders.
Students from Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school corporations will take the applied skills portion during several days starting Tuesday. Bartholomew Consolidated students will take the multiple-choice portion April 9; Flat Rock-Hawcreek students will take theirs May 7.
The state will combine the scores to help them determine letter grades under the A-F system, which school officials locally and statewide have criticized for not emphasizing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
It was that system last year that assigned the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.’s elementary and middle schools 10 A’s, two B’s and an F — a significant improvement from the previous year but still troubling for the schools that fell short. Elementary and middle schools are the ones that take ISTEP. Bartholomew Consolidated’s non-A schools that take ISTEP are Clifty Creek, Northside Middle School and Columbus Signature Academy-Lincoln campus.
The Flat Rock-Hawcreek school system had an A, a B and an F, with Hope Elementary School the school getting a failing grade.
Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school officials said they think more students will pass ISTEP this year because of acuity testing the students take three times a year. Acuity testing measures the same skills as ISTEP and is intended to point out weaknesses so the schools can address them.
Cynthia Frost, principal of Clifty Creek, said acuity testing predicts ISTEP passing rates at her school will improve from last year’s nearly 50 percent rate. She did not want to reveal the improvement prediction because it is intended for internal use.
Frost said administrators have conducted data meetings with all of the school’s teachers to look at each student’s performance on the acuity tests so individual attention could be given to those students to help them improve.
She said teachers also have modified their classroom instruction based on acuity. In some cases, that meant going back and practicing skills that troubled students as a whole.
In general, Clifty Creek has been emphasizing math and English scores, which are the areas that the A-F Accountability system values the most, school officials said.
Students read and interact with one another daily. They divide into groups based on individual ability so teachers or helpers can work at the pace of the more advanced students and help lagging students catch up with their classmates, Frost said.
Clifty Creek has been offering after-school tutoring programs, which many students have taken advantage of to improve their academic skills, Frost said.
Chad Phillips, the principal at Lincoln, which received a B last year, said the most recent acuity test at his school predicted a 3 percentage point improvement of students that pass ISTEP-Plus, to about 76 percent.
He said teachers have used the acuity test results to improve weak performance areas. For example, geometry skills were found to be lacking among fifth-graders, which led teachers to concentrate on helping students improve in that area.
Otherwise, Lincoln has been preparing for the ISTEP-Plus by encouraging students to practice good habits that they should be using anyway, like making sure they check their work, he said.
“We want them to be familiar with the ISTEP-Plus testing format,” Phillips said. “We want them to always do a good job.”
Amy Dixon, principal of Northside Middle School, which also received a B from the state, said the most recent round of acuity tests showed Northside should have about the same 72 percent student passing rate it had last year.
Northside uses the data to help individual students improve in weak areas and for teachers to identify and address problems that entire classes might encounter, she said.
Other than the acuity testing, teachers at Northside are just doing the best job they can in the classroom to help students, Dixon said. She said school officials just hope it will be enough to bump them up to an A on the state scale.
“We never teach to the test,” she said.
Lisa Smith, principal of Hope Elementary School, said acuity testing at her school predicts a roughly 4 percentage point improvement from its 59 percent passing rate last year.
She said teachers use results from acuity to set teaching priorities.
The school also has made changes in general, Smith said. Students there break off into groups based on their skill levels. Teachers are refining their teaching strategies. They are finding ways to help students grow, regardless of whether certain students are advanced or lag behind their peers.
Smith said school administrators have developed another educational approach, one in which they pinpoint four specific students to track and assess to help tweak class curriculum.
“We’re just very proud of the progress we’ve made,” Smith said.
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