Turned around? Or still turning?

Last month, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett celebrated gains made by Indiana schools on ISTEP-Plus exams. He singled out for praise Indianapolis’ H.L. Harshman Middle School, where the percentage of students passing state tests in both English and math increased by a remarkable 27.2 points over the previous year.

This week Bennett announced that Indiana was awarding $8.5 million in federal School Improvement Grants to five low-performing schools. “Schools most in need of dramatic improvement were given this opportunity to commit to transformational change for the benefit of their students,” he said.

One of the schools getting a $1.9 million grant to bring about transformational change: H.L. Harshman Middle School.

OK, wait a minute. The number of Harshman students who passed ISTEP in both math and English improved from 33 percent to 60.2 percent between 2010 and 2011. The school has one of the best passing rates in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. Hasn’t it turned around already?

What about the all schools where fewer than half the students passed state math and English tests? About two-thirds of IPS schools are in that category. Wouldn’t these grants be better spent on them?

Indiana Department of Education spokesman Alex Damron said a School Improvement Grant was awarded to Harshman to ensure it continues on a positive trajectory. He pointed out that the school was on academic probation with the state for four years. A conversion to a magnet school, where parents choose to send their children, helped with the turnaround, IPS officials have said.

“We have always said school turnaround is a multi-year process,” Damron said by email. “The school leaders at Harshman have demonstrated a tremendous commitment to improving academic outcomes for their students. We want to give them the necessary support to continue improving year over year.”

Fair enough. It makes sense to support the improvement that Harshman’s students are making. But 18 schools applied for this round of School Improvement Grants, and only five hit the jackpot. Staff at the other schools may be wondering if the money is going where it will do the most good.