IDOE announces 2016-17 school accountability grades; Majority of Wabash schools maintain previous letter grade

By Emma Rausch and David Fenker

The Indiana Department of Education announced the 2016-2017 accountability grades Wednesday, Oct. 4, and one Wabash county school improved while the majority maintained their score from the previous year.

Of the 12 participating schools, two received A scores, four received B grades and six received Cs.

White’s Junior-Senior High School currently has an “appeals pending” status.

Based on the state’s standardized ISTEP testing exam, accountability grades track school improvement. This year, nearly 25 percent of schools across the state improved one or more letter grades, with the total number of A rated schools increasing by close to 6 percent, and overall 62 percent of schools received an A or B, according to IDOE.

“I am encouraged by the results of our current accountability grades as an indication of the great education Indiana students are receiving,” Dr. Jennifer McCormick, state superintendent of public instruction, said. “Our work, however, is not finished. As a department, we will continue to partner with stakeholders from the state level to the local community to ensure every school is successful and every student is academically prepared for the future.”

While the grades offer indication to a school’s ability, the test that determines the score every few years. The state education department updated the ISTEP test in 2015 and utilized “Indiana’s new, more rigorous standards and assessments for the first time” in the 2015-2016 ISTEP testing, according to Glenda Ritz, former Indiana superintendent of public instruction.

This is the new format’s second year in implementation with changes expected to take place again next year.

For the 10th consecutive year, St. Bernard Catholic School received an A accountability grade.

“We’re super proud of our students and our staff,” Principal Theresa Carroll told The Paper of Wabash County. “It’s a testament to the teamwork that we have and individualized learning. We use a blended learning approach and have for many years. So I just think that the continued success stems from working for the individual child and getting the child to see that when they work hard they can be successful and we also talk about them doing their best for the glory of God.”

Carroll agreed that the ISTEP score and accountability grade are a snap shot indication.

“The assessments are something that we do throughout the year and so this is just one more that the children take,” Carroll said. “So they’re success on the test isn’t necessarily our goal. Our goal is their life here and beyond, beyond this Earth.”

In North Manchester, Manchester Junior-Senior High School received an A grade while Manchester Intermediate School received a B and Manchester Elementary School received a C.

“They are one indicator,” Mike Pettibone, Manchester Community Schools, told The News Journal. “We look at them as one piece of the information that we receive about our schools. I don’t want to say that we dismiss them completely because I don’t think we should.

“Do we question the validity? I think, with a grain of salt, you question the validity of these tests, and I think there’s a moving target that I feel sorry for schools having to deal with.”

The officials at Manchester Elementary School wish the grade was better, Pettibone added.

“I know that Joe Rodgers and the staff at Manchester Elementary School wish the grade was better than C, but at the same time what you have to understand is that most schools have more than one grade level that have an impact on your scores,” Pettibone said. “Let’s say that you have a grade level that struggles a little bit, you have two more grade levels that maybe can average those out. In a school where you only get to have one grade level, that puts a lot of pressure on those teachers and that grade level.

“The other disadvantage that MES has is that since they only have third grade (taking the ISTEP), there are no growth points. At MIS, the kids in grades four, five and six, and also grades seven and eight, they use previous years’ scores and then schools get growth points. MES, since they only have third grade, doesn’t have the advantage of gaining extra growth points, so they’re a little bit at a disadvantage that way.”

MSD of Wabash County schools face the same hurdles with the accountability scores.

Northfield Junior-Senior High School and Southwood Junior-Senior High School both received B grades while Southwood Elementary, Sharp Creek Elementary and Metro North Elementary all received C scores.

“There are many factors in the school grade and when I say that, in the elementary (level), there are really two factors,” Mike Keaffaber, MSD superintendent, told The Paper of Wabash County. “There’s the ISTEP performance and ISTEP growth, and the changing did change last year so this would be the second year for that, but then obviously, there are changes because we’re talking about different groups of students.

“So we’re not comparing apples to apples. When we talk about Metro North for example, Metro North, since it’s configured (kindergarten through third grade), the performance is based on third grade. So it’s a totally different set of students for the performance and the growth is actually based on the students that are at Sharp Creek right now. … If you have one class that’s stronger than another class, that can make a difference. So again, you’re not comparing apples to apples. So that was a score that went down a little bit and then of course caused the grade level to go down.”

Both MSD and MCS receive rankings from the Northwest Evaluation Association, which measures student growth.

“We feel like when we look at our NWA scores, which are not part of the school grade, we are seeing better results with that,” Keaffaber said, “and I think part of that is that the students know that … it’s more formative instead of summative and we can act on that a lot quicker. We just got the results (from last school year’s ISTEP) back and it’s October. So it’s frustrating when we say that now those teachers don’t have those students any more, but other testing modes that we have do help us out.

“So again, the test is just based on that snap shot, especially for elementary, because elementary has no other measures. It’s just that testing. There’s more going on in the school than just the ISTEP tests of math and English.”

Pettibone noted that MCS Curriculum Director Sue Gnagy is working on a new curriculum that will target “critical content” and “important content” for each grade level tested at the state level to help improve Manchester students’ performance on tests.

The “critical content” refers to material that the schools have been told has a 50 percent chance of being on the ISTEP exams, Pettibone explained.

“To say that we are teaching only to the test is not true,” he added, “but we are wise enough to know what we’re going to be tested on. This is helping us improve our alignment (with the state test).”

Keaffaber said that MSD is setting their sites on improving student learning.

“We continue to look at ways to improve,” he said, later adding, “I want the community to know that we continue to have staff development, professional development to look at ways to better our curriculum and instruction. … It’s one of those things, not just because of the school grade and ISTEP but because we always want to try to do better, we continue to have that professional development to try to do the best that we can for the students that we have.”

At Wabash City Schools, Wabash High School received a B score while Wabash Middle School and O.J. Neighbours Elementary School received C grades.

Attempts to contact City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan for comment were unsuccessful.

Posted on 2017 Oct 10