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Thirteen of the 15 schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. improved their overall letter grades for 2011-2012, the second year of a new state scoring system. Grades for the other two schools in the district remained the same.
The Indiana Department of Education on Wednesday released the data, which, among other things, measures progress of student performance and improvement on standardized tests.
More than 61 percent of Indiana’s schools received A or B letter grades for the 2011-2012 school year. This year, 207 schools received A grades for the first time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, 18.6 percent of schools earned D or F grades, similar to this past year’s percentage. Grades were assessed for both Indiana public and private schools.
Among Bartholomew County private schools, St. Bartholomew School and White Creek Lutheran received A grades for the second-straight year. St. Peter Lutheran received a B grade for 2011-2012, down from an A the previous year. International School of Columbus also received a B grade for 2011-2012; the school’s grade for the prior year was unavailable.
Year-against-year improvement was significant in the public education sector. For 2010-11, the Bartholomew Consolidated school system had only one A and three F’s among its schools. This past year, it has 10 A’s and one F.
Central Middle School and Columbus Signature Academy-Fodrea showed the most dramatic improvement within the district, rising from failing grades this past year to A’s this year. They were among three schools in southeast Indiana to make such a leap.
Clifty Creek Elementary School got an F for the second year in a row, although officials say it is bound to improve because of significant changes that have transformed the school.
BCSC Superintendent John Quick said he is holding in check his enthusiasm for the school district’s overall improvement. That’s because he believes the scoring system, which educational critics this past year said penalized diverse districts and ignored other measures of school quality, remains flawed despite some notable improvements.
Changes in the system have included a first-time emphasis at the high school level on college and career readiness, for example. However, that category counts as only 10 percent of the total grade, contributing little weight to something Quick considers the most important factor of all.
Among the most dramatic changes was a shift from taking a snapshot of individual students’ performance on one exam to one that categorizes the students into high-, medium- and low-growth categories. The new system gives bonus points, such as when a certain percentage of students pass both the math and English portions.
And yet students get credit for high growth only if their gain is better than two-thirds of all students at their testing level. That means only a third of students will be able to reach that benchmark, no matter how much their scores improve.
However, the Indiana Department of Education hails its revised system as one that gives parents, students, educators and communities a clear and concise assessment of how well their schools are doing. It calls the system a better way of measuring and reporting school performance than the way it evaluated schools the previous year.
The system continues to recognize student performance only in math and English. At the high school level, it’s measured by way of end-of-course assessments, graduation rates and college and career readiness. At the middle school level, it’s measured by way of the ISTEP-Plus exam.
Principals of the two most-improved BCSC schools said they believe there still are problems with the assessment system but said their schools deserve much of the credit for the turnaround.
Randy Gratz, principal of Central Middle School, said Central took its F to heart this past year by changing to an educational system that emphasizes project-based learning, specifically in content knowledge, oral and written communication, critical thinking, community partnerships and connected technologies.
For example, he said, Central students during the 2011-12 school year shared ideas with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources about how to solve erosion problems at Mill Race Park. They also worked with IUPUI to use the university’s science mobile lab.
“Our teachers really got the kids fired up,” Gratz said. “Our students bought into doing the best they could to dig deep into the content of real issues and find some solutions.”
Diane Clancy, principal of Columbus Signature Academy-Fodrea, said one of the main reasons Fodrea got an F last year was its students were new to the concept of project-based learning when it took the ISTEP-Plus exam in 2011.
She credited the school’s dramatic turnaround to students getting used to project-based learning and getting smarter because of its hands-on approach to learning.
“Project-based learning helps our kids see why they need to learn something so they can file what they learn into their memories for future use,” Clancy said. “It’s more permanent.”
Clifty Creek, the only BCSC school to fail twice in a row, implemented project-based learning this year, and a district administrator expects to see the benefits of that starting with next year’s state rankings.
Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for the school system, said Clifty Creek has brought on board a new team of teachers who understand the hands-on concept.
State law requires the State Board of Education to intervene in a school that has received a failing grade for six consecutive years.
Changing the formula
The Indiana Department of Education modified its A-F School Accountability system in 2011-12 from the previous year’s original model.
Schools’ grades were calculated by examining the percentage of students who passed ISTEP or English and Algebra I end-of-course assessments, along with whether the rate of the students passing those exams had improved within three years.
Here’s how the grades for elementary and middle schools are calculated:
Schools get preliminary scores based on the percent of students who passed ISTEP or similar state assessments. Those scores can be raised if either the bottom 25 percent of students show high growth on the exam or the remaining 75 percent of students show low growth.
The scores can be lowered if less than 95 percent of the bottom 25 percent of students take the exam, or if less than 95 percent of the remaining 75 percent take the exam.
Here’s how the grades for high schools are determined:
High schools receive scores based on the percent of sophomores who have passed the English 10 and Algebra I end-of-course assessments. A school’s score can be raised if there is a 10 percent improvement in English or a 17 percent improvement in math compared with students’ eighth-grade ISTEP scores.
Scores can be lowered for a school if the end-of-course assessment scores fall when compared to ISTEP.
But scores can also rise if 59 percent of students who didn’t pass the English assessment or 63 percent who didn’t pass the Algebra exam do so by graduation.
Schools get another set of scores based on graduation rates, which can rise if more than 34 percent of students receive honors diplomas or 13 percent of students who didn’t graduate within four years graduate in five.
Those scores can fall if 33 percent or more students receive general diplomas.
Schools also receive a set of scores based on preparing students for college and careers. Those are based on the percentage of graduates who do one of the following: Earn passing scores of three, four or five on an Advanced Placement exam; earn a passing score of four, five, six or seven on an International Baccalaureate exam; earn three verifiable college credits from the priority liberal arts course list or earn a Department of Education-approved industry certification.
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