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State school reviews incorrect

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Parents can check out a state report to find out the class sizes at their students’ schools, the rate of students taking advanced courses and the amount of money spent per student; and they can compare those numbers with other school districts.

But school officials say not all of the numbers in the report are right — some are without context or just plain wrong.

The state started requiring the Indiana Department of Education to release the annual school performance reports in the late 1990s. Since then, families across the state have been able to use the reports to address concerns they have with local school officials and to decide when buying a home which school district they wanted their children to attend.

“I think it is a useful tool to give some points of comparison between local school districts,” Hoosier State Press Association executive director Steve Key said.

But school officials at Clark-Pleasant are worried about incorrect information listed in the 2013 report. The reports also are unclear about whether the percentages of students taking advanced courses at several local school districts has held steady or dropped.

And when the reports contain inaccurate information, families can’t use them to make informed judgments about their schools, Key said.

“If a measurement system isn’t measuring information correctly, that reduces its effectiveness,” he said.

The education department’s report for 2013 said last school year Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School and five Clark-Pleasant elementary schools had between 40 and 57 students for every full-time employee with a teaching license, including teachers and counselors.

The actual rates are between 14 and 20 students for every licensed, full-time employee, according to school officials.

This is the second straight year the department has printed incorrect student/teacher ratios for Clark-Pleasant schools. Clark-Pleasant officials have asked the department why the numbers, which are submitted by the school district, have been incorrect for the past two years. But no one from the state office has provided an answer, director of curriculum and instruction Cameron Rains said.

“We kind of had a back and forth for a while, with no response,” Rains said.

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Daniel Altman said any inaccuracies in the reports most likely happen during the collection of information from school districts. School districts can appeal to have disputed numbers, or figures they believe are incorrect, addressed in the print copy of the performance report. In those cases, the number a school district believes is correct and the initial number reported by the department both are listed, he said.

But that doesn’t fix the online version of the report, which local school officials say is not correct.

Right now, if parents log on to the Indiana Department of Education website to access the report, they’ll see the incorrect student/teacher ratios listed for Clark-Pleasant schools for the past school years. That makes it difficult for parents to know how many students are actually in elementary and intermediate school classrooms, Rains said.

School districts typically try to keep the number of students in each classroom between 20 and 25 students. Once the number climbs higher than that, it becomes difficult for teachers to identify and provide one-on-one help for students. Clark-Pleasant officials don’t want parents or residents thinking the buildings are so full teachers can’t adequately instruct all of the students, Rains said.

“We have an inaccurate depiction of what’s actually happening in our school district,” Rains said. “We’ve been pretty good stewards of our resources, and we feel that should be reflected.”

The performance reports are also unclear about the percentage of local students in gifted and talented programs.

At first glance, the reports appear to show that Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Edinburgh schools have fewer students taking advanced courses than in previous years.

But that’s because Clark-Pleasant and Center Grove, following a suggestion by the state, recently stopped counting every high school student who was taking an Advanced Placement course as a gifted and talented student, Rains and Center Grove director of curriculum Wendy Kruger said.

Not counting every high school student taking an Advanced Placement course makes it appear that fewer students are enrolled in gifted and talented programs, they said.

The percentages of students in gifted and talented programs at Franklin and Greenwood schools appear more consistent. But Greenwood typically hasn’t had many high school students taking Advanced Placement courses, so those numbers wouldn’t have affected the rates for previous years, assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said. And Franklin schools stopped including all of the students taking Advanced Placement courses as gifted and talented students several years ago, according to Mark Heiden, the district’s high ability coordinator.

Taking an Advanced Placement course does not automatically qualify a student as gifted and talented or a high-ability student. Those students typically are identified in elementary and middle school and have proved they can complete assignments faster or at a higher grade level than other students.

Local school districts have been expanding their programs for high-ability students over the past several years and want parents to know they’re regularly assessing students to see who is eligible for those programs.

“We want to get as many kids as we can into advanced courses. But it doesn’t mean that every one of them will qualify as a high-ability student. And that’s OK,” Rains said.

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