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District adds on tougher courses

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Nearly two years after a group of parents raised concerns about the quality of the classes at Center Grove’s two middle schools, more challenging science classes have been added, and more are on the way.

The parents wanted middle school students to be able to take more honors courses, which would build on the skills advanced students learned in elementary-level high ability programs. The parents also wanted Center Grove students to be prepared to take more challenging college-level and Advanced Placement courses once they reached high school.

This year, Center Grove added honors science courses for sixth- and seventh-grade students. Another honors science course and a biology course students can take for high school credit will be added for eighth-graders next school year.

Center Grove also is expanding its world language courses, offering a class in basic Spanish vocabulary and culture for sixth- and seventh-graders, while eighth-graders will be able to take a full year of a foreign language, or one semester of Spanish. That means, starting next school year, middle school students can leave eighth grade with high school credits in math, biology and a world language, director of curriculum Wendy Kruger said.

But at least one parent still worries that Center Grove isn’t keeping up with the programs offered at other schools in central Indiana.

Elisa Horne, who has two students at Center Grove Middle School North and was part of the original group of parents who spoke to school officials in 2012, still worries that Center Grove’s middle school courses aren’t as rigorous as those at surrounding school districts.

“I do not think that they have truly created a continuing, high ability portion to the middle school, at all,” Horne said.

For now, Center Grove officials believe the changes that already have been made meet students’ needs. And while they consider what other schools offer, Center Grove doesn’t set classes based solely on other school districts, Kruger said.

“We look to see what other schools (offer), but our focus is on what our students need, and how we can best meet their needs,” Kruger said.

Horne worries that if students don’t have more chances to take challenging middle school courses, then they’ll opt out of rigorous high school courses they don’t feel prepared for. She thinks that is why Center Grove doesn’t have more graduates earning academic honors diplomas.

Thirty-three percent of Center Grove High School graduates earned academic honors diplomas in 2011, and parents believed additional rigorous middle school courses would enable more to earn the honors diploma. About 40 percent of Center Grove’s 2012 graduates earned academic honors diplomas, which was less than other central Indiana school districts including Carmel Clay schools, where nearly half of graduates earned academic honors diplomas, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Horne’s eighth-grade son won’t be able to take any of the advanced science classes being offered at the middle school before starting at Center Grove High School next year. He already completed Algebra I for high school credit in seventh grade and is taking geometry now.

The middle school doesn’t offer geometry, so Horne’s son had to give up band in order to take the class at the high school. Horne’s sixth-grade daughter, who also wants to take Algebra I and geometry in high school, will likely have to drop band to take geometry as well, Horne said.

Right now, Center Grove has about 19 middle school students who take Algebra I as seventh-graders, but not enough students who would take geometry in eighth grade to add that class at one of the middle schools, Kruger said.

At Greenwood Middle School, eighth-grade students who want to take geometry also go to Greenwood Community High School for the course. The middle school also offers honors classes to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students in math, language arts, social studies and science so that students will be better prepared for more challenging classes in the subjects in high school, director of guidance Paul Reuter said.

“The more students we get in high-level classes, the better prepared they’ll be,” Reuter said.

Students at Franklin Community Middle School can take advanced language arts and math classes, and students also can take Algebra I and a second math course for high school credit at the middle school, Creekside Elementary principal and high ability coordinator Mark Heiden said.

Officials also are reviewing the honors and advanced courses now being offered at Franklin Community High School. If high school courses are changed or upgraded, school officials also could decide to make changes to middle school courses to ensure students are better prepared when they get to the high school, Heiden said.

Center Grove Grove’s middle and high school test scores show the school district is equipping students with the math and science courses they’ll need after graduation, Kruger said.

Between 92 percent and 95 percent of the students at the two middle schools passed the math portion of ISTEP last school year, while between 78 percent and 86 percent of students passed the science portion of the exam, according to the department of education.

At Center Grove High School, 81 percent of students passed the Algebra I end-of-course assessment last year, which is required for graduation and tests students on the lessons they learned in the course. About 73 percent of last year’s students passed the Biology I end-of-course exam, which isn’t required for graduation, according to the department of education.

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