Indiana growth scores for schools yield surprising results

Which Indiana school districts are the most effective at improving student achievement? Let’s hear it for Eastern Greene School District, a rural, high-poverty district in southern Indiana? And Southwest Dubois School Corp., another small, rural district.

How about the best big school district? Brownsburg Community Schools takes the prize. Some typically high-achieving schools — Carmel, Zionsville and Hamilton Southeastern — are also among the elite. But so are districts that aren’t thought of as high fliers, such as Elkhart, New Albany and Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.

Here’s another surprise. A few charter schools do great at promoting growth, but the overall record for charters is pretty mediocre. The same is true for private schools.

This is according to school ratings on the Indiana Growth Model, a statistical tool that assesses students’ annual improvement in test scores compared to that of others with similar academic histories. The model assigns a growth percentile score to each student.

Indiana has compiled median growth scores for schools and districts for years, but it has never made a big deal out of them. Yet the growth model is arguably a much better measure of school effectiveness than A-to-F school grades or the percentage of students who pass ISTEP-Plus exams, both of which are typically reported to great hoopla.

Median growth scores for 2012-13 are available on the Indiana Department of Education website for anyone to download and analyze. What do they show?

  • Who’s hot. Eastern Greene County, a rural district where more than half the students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, is the No. 1 public school district for growth in English/language arts. The median growth score for its students was 74. In math, Southeast Dubois and Brownsburg tied for the best median growth score at 72. Two other high-poverty rural school districts, Crawford County and Jay School Corp., also were near the top.
  • Who’s not. Charter schools and private schools trailed public schools in their growth-model scores. At least half of traditional public schools had median growth scores at or above 50 percent – in other words, they were at or above average. For private and charter schools, average growth scores were considerably lower. (I’ll have more on this later).
  • IPS standouts. There’s a lot of variation among schools within the same school districts. Indianapolis Public Schools, for example, has a district median growth score that’s slightly below average. But some IPS schools knock the ball out of the park. And some of these – Ernie Pyle, Carl Wilde, Anna Brochhausen and Charles Fairbanks to name a few — serve student populations that are around 90 percent poor and 90 percent nonwhite. Magnet programs and intra-district choice may skew the IPS results. But from the outside, it looks like some of these schools should be bottling whatever it is they’re doing and selling it.
  • Growth aligns with performance. There often seems to be a correlation between high growth and high test scores. Look at the plots of ISTEP passing rates and growth model scores for some big districts like IPS, Gary and Evansville. The dots follow a southwest-to-northeast pattern: low growth goes with low performance, high growth with high performance. This may reflect the well-known fact that family circumstances associated with high performance also promote higher growth.
  • No handicap for the advantaged. There’s a widespread misconception that focusing on growth is unfair to high-achieving schools and students because, if students are already performing at a high level, there’s less room for them to grow. This is false. Students are compared only with other students who start out at the same level that they do. A high-scoring student who improves her score by 20 points is evaluated against other high-scoring students – not against a low-scoring student who improves by 30 points.
  • Schools vary from year to year. The schools I’m most familiar with are those in the Monroe County Community School Corp. The big winner in the MCCSC this year is Templeton Elementary School, a high-poverty school that reportedly improved its school grade from F to A thanks to bonus points for student growth. The big loser is Highland Park Elementary, which got an A in 2012 but fell sharply this year when its growth scores declined.

You get the sense that, for high-poverty schools, it’s possible to score high on growth now and then, but maybe not every year. On the other hand, some of those IPS schools suggest sustained, high growth is feasible even for schools that serve lots of underprivileged kids. I want to know how they do it.

 Top 10 school districts for median growth, English-language arts

  • Eastern Greene – 74
  • Brownsburg – 69
  • Crawford County, Penn-Harris-Madison – 66
  • Jay School Corp., Speedway – 65
  • Daleville, Tell City – 64
  • Randolph Central – 63.5
  • Blackford County, Southwest Dubois, Hamilton Southeastern – 63

Top 10 school districts for median growth, mathematics

  • Southwest Dubois, Brownsburg – 72
  • Daleville, Southeast Dubois, Jay School Corp., Batesville – 69
  • Barr-Reeve, Warren County – 67
  • Crawford County, Northeast Dubois, Baugo, Eastern Greene, Penn-Harris-Madison – 66

Top 10 large districts, English-language arts (more than 2,500 test-takers)

  • Brownsburg – 69
  • Penn-Harris-Madison – 66
  • Hamilton Southeastern – 63
  • MSD Lawrence Township, Zionsville, Mooresville – 62
  • Carmel Clay, Greenfield-Central – 59
  • Elkhart, Franklin Township — 58

Top 10 large districts, mathematics

  • Brownsburg – 72
  • Penn-Harris-Madison – 66
  • Carmel Clay, Zionsville – 64
  • Hamilton Southeastern – 63
  • Avon, Lafayette – 62
  • Greenfield-Central – 60
  • Elkhart, New Albany, Noblesville, Mooresville – 59
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4 thoughts on “Indiana growth scores for schools yield surprising results

  1. Carl Wilde is about leadership, professional development, and student-teacher relations. The real conversation is mostly about leadership, and should not be so hard focused on “teachers,” because we already take our failures and successes as a professional challenge, and a personal one for our students.

    Visit Carl Wilde, meet Joyce Akridge. Pay close attention to the atmosphere that she has worked so hard to share with her colleagues. She treats us like equals, and professionals. Not to say that humility isn’t part of the school’s teacher-student success; we know which lane to stay in, and our mission to achieve student success is clear and concise because of our leader. She gives us the tools, so that we can teach. That is hard to find in many schools.

    For me, the biggest hurdle is the reading framework of Indiana. We have been doing expensive programs for years, and that is not just referring to IPS. Sixty percent of fourth grade students are not reading on level, and what do basal programs have to say for themselves after so many decades? The future is professional development and finding new approaches that cost a fraction of what basal programs do. Supporting our primary and intermediate students with appropriate multi-sensory approaches to word analysis is going to be key to closing the literacy gap in our public schools.

    Thank you for sharing, and I am a fifth year teacher that is getting quite frustrated with the politicizing of education. The one thing that is painfully obvious, and I have known since I started my first job all the way through my different careers; throwing more people at the problem does not fix it, rather it requires addressing the problem itself. We call that a courageous conversation at school 79.

    • Josh, thanks for sharing this. I hope you’ll continue to comment, whether you agree with what I write or not. I’d love to visit Carl Wilde. It’s a bit difficult, because I have a day job and write my blog nights and weekends … but maybe someday.

    • I’m assuming by “word analysis” you are referring to students using background knowledge/word roots/textual clues to increase comprehension. The research to support this methodology is at best inconclusive.

      In fact, once you get text decoding down, most reading strategies are of limited benefit. Better to work on increasing content knowledge (lack of comprehension is mainly lack of background knowledge) and providing a wide variety of high interest reading material to students.

      If we do not increase the desire to read, other strategies are of limited value. The more students read, they more robust their knowledge base is.

      Keep up the good work.

  2. Pingback: Rise & Shine: Pence vs. Ritz war fueled by different views of 2012 election | Chalkbeat Indiana

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