Center Grove targets progress

In the next two years, Center Grove wants more students passing state-mandated exams in math and English and more students graduating.

They want to rank higher in the state for the percent of students passing the ISTEP exam, as well as when compared to their peer schools in central Indiana.

Officials caution that those improvements will take time, and that parents and residents need to be patient, but the work has already started.

In the past six years, Center Grove’s scores on ISTEP have not kept up with improvement at other schools. Two years ago, Center Grove ranked 40th in the state for ISTEP, which was a drop from 2012 when the school district ranked 11th.

Center Grove’s ISTEP scores stayed relatively the same year-to-year, while other similar school districts in Indiana improved their scores year after year. For example, Crown Point, Plainfield and Brownsburg school districts have all received higher ISTEP scores than Center Grove in the past two years, according to a chart from Center Grove officials.

Officials also want the Center Grove High School graduation rate to grow each year. The hope is to have a 96 percent passing rate by 2018, which is 3.5 percentage points higher than last year, Principal Doug Bird said.

During the past year, Center Grove officials have been laying the foundation for their academic improvement. This year and next, the school district is working to spot their weaknesses and improve in those areas, said Jack Parker, director of teaching and instruction.

They are creating teacher groups, which will allow their staff to learn from their co-workers about what they are teaching and how they are helping their students, added new positions for curriculum directors and instructional coaches, who are altering lessons so they will help every student learn, and have started new assessments that will give them more data about each student’s growth.

Those changes are beginning to work, Parker said.

School officials have already seen students improve individually in assessments taken throughout the school year. But the true test will be revealed in the next two years, Parker said.

By next school year, the school district expects to see significant growth in their academic scores, especially with the state-mandated ISTEP, Parker said.

“I am stoked for 2017’s ISTEP scores,” Parker said. “That’s what we’re really working toward.”

Parker’s goal is for Center Grove to rank higher than No. 36 in the state — which was its ranking two years ago.

Last year, Center Grove ranked 14th in the state in ISTEP scores, but Parker said that cannot be seen as an improvement because the exam was revamped in 2015 with more rigorous, in-depth questions that required more critical thinking skills. Administrators were told to not compare the scores to previous years’ results since the test was so different from those given in years past.

“I don’t make a big deal out of this, even though we’re very proud of it,” Parker said. “We also need to temper this with the fact that this was a really weird test. I’d be really proud of anything that’s better than a 36 (ranking) next year.”

Parker has been comparing Center Grove to other similar-sized schools: districts with student enrollments between 5,000 and 10,000 children, and a free and reduced lunch rate of 5 to 40 percent, he said. In addition to studying where the school districts scored on ISTEP exams and other assessments, Center Grove is also looking to those schools for their best practices.

For example, Brownsburg started using teacher groups in 2011 and saw their ISTEP scores jump in 2012, Parker said. So Center Grove officials are hoping for similar results now that teacher groups are being formed in their schools, Parker said.

In addition, Center Grove started using a new assessment that other local school districts use to show what concepts students understand. The new assessment, called Northwest Evaluation Association or NWEA, shows how long a student works on the assessment and what they excelled or struggled in.

If students get a question right, they get a tougher question in return. Students also are asked to write down a specific goal based on their assessment so they can have accountability for their learning, administrators said.

“This is by far the best information we’ve gotten in years, as far as testing goes,” Center Grove Elementary School third grade teacher Bobbi Petersen said. “It tells us where they’re at, how they’re progressing. I just feel like, as a teacher, I use this in my daily teaching to prepare the kids.”

Teachers also can look at their whole class to see where students are falling short, and if they should be spending more time on a certain subject or concept, Petersen said.

Elementary school teachers have seen some students grow beyond what they had expected. The average elementary-aged student should score 10 points higher by the end of the year than what they did at the beginning of the school year. But in some classes, students are already scoring about 15 points higher within eight weeks, Center Grove Elementary fifth-grade teacher Jenny Ferguson said.

Looking for academic achievements

Center Grove officials have set benchmarks for themselves when it comes to ISTEP scores and high school graduation rate. Here’s a look at what administrators want to change:

  • By the ISTEP exam in school year 2016-2017, Center Grove wants the school district to rank higher than 36th in the state, which was their state rank last year
  • By 2018, the high school wants to have a graduation rate of 96 percent. Last year’s graduation rate came in at 92.5 percent.