State school grade results mixed

Most schools in Jackson County lost ground this year as state accountability grades generally dropped.

Some schools held their markings from last year, and one school, Medora Junior-Senior High School, showed improvement, going from a grade of D to a B.

The Indiana Department of Education released 2015-16 A-F accountability grades earlier this week. District grades are expected to be made public at a later date.

Greg Walker, superintendent of Brownstown Central Community School Corp., said he was not surprised by the grades and actually thought they would be worse.

Brownstown Elementary School fell from an A to a C, while the middle school and high school dropped from an A to a B.

“Based on our ISTEP scores, which were low like the rest of the state, I anticipated lower grades than we received,” Walker said.

The fact that no Brownstown school fell below average is something Walker said is worth highlighting.

“This is due to the fact that our students showed high growth from the previous year’s test results,” he said.

He credits that growth to the hard work and dedication of teachers and administrators.

“They strive each day to ensure that our students are learning at a pace that prepares them for the next year,” he said. “I am very proud of their efforts and the effort of the students.”

But Walker said he still doesn’t like the idea of grading schools based mainly on ISTEP scores.

Elementary and middle school grades are determined using a combination of percent of students passing math and English on the ISTEP test and the number of students showing growth from the previous year.

High school grades are determined using a combination of graduation rate, pass rates on End of Course Assessments in algebra and English 10 and college and career readiness achievement rates.

“This is not fair to schools or communities,” Walker said of the school grading system. “School grades are just one of many tools we use to measure student achievement.”

Rob Hooker, superintendent of Seymour Community School Corp., said the scores along with ISTEP results will be discussed by the school board during a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Margaret R. Brown Elementary School.

The information will be presented by Cortland Elementary School Principal Lori Lister, who is the corporation’s test coordinator. Cortland was the only public school in the county to receive an A this year. This marked the fourth year in a row Cortland has earned the state’s highest accountability grade.

Seymour High School fell from an A to a B; Margaret R. Brown Elementary School dropped from an A to a C; Seymour Middle School fell from an A to a D; Emerson Elementary School dropped from an A to a B; Seymour-Jackson Elementary School fell from a B to a C; and Seymour-Redding Elementary School fell from an A to a B.

Parochial schools, including Trinity Lutheran High School, Lutheran Central School, St. Ambrose Catholic School and Immanuel Lutheran School, all received A’s this year. St. John’s Lutheran School at Sauers received a failing grade for its first year of state accountability, and Seymour Christian Academy received a D.

At Medora Community School Corp., the state’s second-smallest public school district, the elementary dropped from a B to a D, and the junior-senior high school improved from a D to a B.

Both Crothersville Elementary School and Crothersville Junior-Senior High School have maintained a B grade since 2014.

Chris Marshall, principal of Crothersville Elementary School, said the grading system is “immensely flawed” and needs to include a better assessment than ISTEP testing.

“Many factors play into a student’s life that can interfere (with the test scores),” he said.

How a student does on a high-stakes test doesn’t determine their success in life and shouldn’t determine the success of a school, he added.

Marshall said the schools break down ISTEP scores to determine what groups of students didn’t score well on the test. Using that information, they design or schedule professional development for teachers in those areas to be able to help their students master those skills.

If lower performing schools received more state funding, Marshall said they would be able to increase their scores and grades, giving all students an equal opportunity to succeed.

“The same funding formula for all schools is not fair,” he said.

Accountability grades also are used to finalize teacher evaluations, which determine pay raises.

This year, the state implemented a new accountability system utilizing more rigorous standards and assessments, said Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.

The 2015-16 grades established a new baseline for school accountability, she added.

Additionally, legislators passed a law to prevent a school’s grade from being unfavorably affected by the 2015 ISTEP scores, a key factor in the accountability formula. Legislators called 2015 a transition year with higher standards and a new test, leading to significantly lower test scores.

After the ISTEP scores dipped again in 2016, school officials already are discussing trying to get accountability grades to be held harmless once again.

Schools have 30 days to appeal their accountability grade to the State Board of Education.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.