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County schools get state report cards

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One-third of Johnson County’s public and private schools have earned higher grades under Indiana’s school grading system.

The grades were determined using a complicated formula few in the state understand and that will be replaced when schools’ grades are calculated next year.

Locally, 14 of the county’s 42 public and private schools received grades from the state improved, while the grades for nine schools fell. Marks for the rest held steady, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education.

Schools’ grades are based on students’ scores on the ISTEP and end-of-course exams and on the number of students who take and improve their scores on the exams. To earn higher grades, schools have to show students are improving their scores on the exams — it’s not enough for students to simply pass the tests.

High schools are graded based on factors including graduation rates and whether students earn honors, Core 40 or general diplomas.

Clark-Pleasant schools received seven A’s and one B, giving the school district the highest grades in Johnson County. Center Grove was close behind, with six A’s and two B’s for its schools. Franklin schools showed the greatest improvement in the county, with six of the district’s eight schools receiving higher grades than last year.

One area school, Northeast Elementary, received a D from the state. Two other Greenwood schools saw their state grades fall. However, Westwood and Southwest Elementary schools and Greenwood Community High School received A’s for a second consecutive year.

No area school received an F, meaning none is in danger of being taken over by the state.

The grades are used by the state to determine how effectively schools are teaching students to master lessons in core subjects, such as math and language arts. In previous years schools’ grades were calculated by examining the percentage of students who passed ISTEP and end-of-course assessments, along with how those passing rates changed over three years.

But last year, then-State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Bennett changed the calculations for the grades to a formula so complicated, almost no one in the state could explain how schools’ grades were determined. He also had the formula changed to ensure an Indianapolis charter school received an A from the state.

“It’s hard to understand what (the grades) really mean,” Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

State education officials and lawmakers are working to create a new, simplter grading system for schools.

Schools typically prefer to receive their grades from the department of education as early as possible, such as in the late summer or early fall. School officials use the information to shape how they’re teaching lessons to students, and the grades are factored into the annual evaluations of teachers and administrators that are now required by the state. Those evaluations also are used to determine whether teachers and administrators should receive raises.

The grades were delayed this year largely because of problems conducting the spring ISTEP tests at elementary and middle schools across the state. The delays in calculating and verifying the ISTEP scores meant it took longer to determine schools’ grades, a department of education news release said.

“I want to thank Indiana’s educators, administrators, parents and, most importantly, students for their patience and countless hours of work over the last academic year. Due to problems caused by the company that administers the ISTEP, these 2012-13 school accountability grades were unfortunately delayed until this point,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said in the news release.

Locally, school officials at Clark-Pleasant and Franklin are focused on improving the collaboration among teachers at each of their schools, which is leading to higher ISTEP and end-of-course assessment scores, according to district administrators.

“When that’s kind of the mentality, and everyone is serious about that and does everything in their power to achieve that, then good things happen,” Clark-Pleasant curriculum instruction specialist Cameron Rains said. “And I think that’s what we’re seeing.”

Teachers at Franklin and Clark-Pleasant schools have spent more time over the past few years meeting with other teachers to learn about different teaching techniques being used. It also ensures all teachers know exactly what students have been taught in lower grades and what the expectations are in the upper grades, which helps them better adjust their lessons, Clendening and Rains said.

“Over time you just get better and better and better at that, so that’s just kind of where we’re putting our focus,” Rains said.

Grading policy

Lower grades

Here’s how the grades for elementary and middle schools are calculated:

Schools get preliminary scores based on the percentage 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.

Upper grades

Here’s how the grades for high schools are determined:

High schools receive scores based on the percentage of sophomores who passed the English 10 and Algebra I end-of-course assessments. The schools’ scores 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 also can rise if 59 percent of students who didn’t pass the English end-of-course 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 a passing score 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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