NWI school districts react to state's report card

2011-08-30T11:00:00Z 2011-08-30T14:11:47Z NWI school districts react to state's report cardBy Carmen McCollum carmen.mccollum@nwi.com, (219) 662-5337 nwitimes.com

The Indiana Department of Education graded schools Monday, illustrating that in many cases charter schools are not performing much better than their traditional public school counterparts.

This is the first year the department switched to regular grades to score schools under Public Law 221, the state's accountability law.

A record number of schools, 775 in total, received an A, or "exemplary," ranking based on student performance and improvement data from the state's ISTEP-Plus test and end-of-course assessments. The number of schools receiving an F, or academic probation, decreased by 50 percent from 2011 to 2010 and is at its lowest point in state history, officials said.

Many public school corporations in Lake County scored an A, though some schools within their respective districts did not do as well. Most school corporations in Porter County netted an A, and their schools earned similar scores. Most local private schools earned high grades; Andrean earned an A and Bishop Noll a B.

School corporations such as Crown Point Community School Corp., Hanover Community School Corp., School Town of Highland, School City of Hobart, Lake Central School Corp., Merrillville Community School Corp. and School Town of Munster were among those that scored an A, or exemplary progress. However, their high schools scored a C, or academic progress.

In Porter County, MSD of Boone Township, Duneland School Corp., East Porter County School Corp., Porter Township School Corp. and Portage Township Schools scored an A. Union Township Schools and Valparaiso Community Schools scored a B.

Among the charter schools, Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, after being A, dropped to C. Gary Lighthouse got an F -- probation -- after three consecutive years with a grade of C. West Gary Lighthouse dropped to D from C, or academic watch.

In its first year, Hammond's new charter school, the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, scored a D. Gary's 21st Century Charter received its second consecutive A after previously being a C and, before that, an F.

Although East Chicago Central High School was removed from probation and earned a C, the corporation flunked. This is the third consecutive year the corporation has been on academic probation.

Gary Community School Corp. also scored an F overall, a drop from last year when the corporation was on academic watch, or D.

Sean Egan, principal at the Hammond Academy, said school leaders are not satisfied, and believe there is an error in reporting. "It doesn't reflect our reality. We are working with the state to see if the numbers were reported accurately," he said.

Kimberlee Sia, regional vice president of Lighthouse Academies, which operates one charter school in East Chicago and two in Gary, said they were disappointed with the scores, particularly at Gary Lighthouse.

"There was growth in terms of enrollment at each of those schools," she said. "That, coupled with the fact that the cut scores increased this year, contributed to the change in our scores."

Adequate Yearly Progress scores also were released for schools statewide. Overall, 51 percent of schools made AYP in 2011. AYP is the federal measure for academic progress outlined in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and it has been included in PL 221 since the law went into effect. Schools not making AYP for two consecutive years can receive no higher than a C, or "academic progress," ranking -- even where a school has raised scores enough to earn a higher rating by state measures. The state Board of Education has indicated it likely will remove the AYP cap from future accountability metrics.

Merrillville Superintendent Tony Lux called the grading system misleading to the public. He said it's totally inappropriate to try to condense a school's performance into a single letter grade when a school provides so many different educational programs and affects students in so many ways academically, socially and behaviorally.

"The high school made incredible growth on end-of-course assessments. We had 83 percent of our students passing, and we showed a 30 percent improvement. If that isn't exemplary progress, what is? We're capped at a C because we didn't make AYP last year," Lux said.

Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins, echoing Lux's comments, said when one considers the complexities it takes to operate a school corporation, a single grade doesn't come close to accurately capturing what goes on day to day in a classroom.

Watkins, Lux and Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer also said research indicates charter schools are "no panacea" to improving public education and often don't perform as well as traditional public schools.

"We have created a competition that I'm not sure is necessary," Baer said. "Taking the financial pie and splitting it into smaller pieces is not fair to either group when the answer might be more funding for everyone."

Portage Superintendent Mike Berta said the high school improved 8 percentage points over last year's performance, missing in only three subgroups. He pointed out that Portage students excel despite a student population of 53 percent that qualifies for free and reduced lunch.

Union Township Superintendent John Hunter said the corporation was not surprised to find itself in the commendable, or B category, because it has held that ranking for a couple of years. However, he said the district is disappointed the high school was ranked at a satisfactory level, with an overall 88.4 percent passing rate on the state test, up from the previous year. Hunter said the school failed to make AYP for the second consecutive year because there weren't enough students who took the end-of-course assessment in math.

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