Here’s a question that rarely seems to be asked about the impending state takeover of Indiana’s chronically low-performing schools: Why is it that, of 18 public schools at risk of being taken over by the State Board of Education, 17 are high schools?
Have all the bad K-12 teachers somehow gravitated to the upper grades? Is there something about high schools that just attracts lousy leaders? Are students who did just fine in elementary school and middle school giving up when they hit ninth grade?
Or is it possible that there’s something fundamentally wrong with Indiana’s system for determining which schools are “failing”?
Consider this: There are 1,129 public elementary schools in Indiana, along with 348 public middle schools and junior high schools and 385 public high schools. None of those elementary schools has been designated for five consecutive years for “probation,” the lowest category in Indiana’s Public Law 221 accountability system and the trigger for state takeover. Only one middle school has.
But 17 high schools – about 1 in 20 – have been in the lowest category for five consecutive years.
In 2009-10, 49 percent of Indiana high schools fell into the probation category. That compares with 8 percent of middle schools and 4 percent of elementary schools.
PL 221 categories are based on two criteria: the percent of students who pass ISTEP-Plus exams and the school’s year-to-year improvement in ISTEP passing rates. And for high schools, especially, that’s a questionable gauge of effectiveness.
In elementary and middle schools, all students in grades 3-8 take annual state exams in math and language arts. With a concerted effort, those schools will occasionally make enough improvement to escape a designation of probation.
But in high schools, it’s different. Continue reading