State assigns schools A-F grades

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Board of Education released A-F accountability grades for 2018-19 last week, with most local schools keeping last year’s grades.

That’s due in part to hold harmless legislation lawmakers passed this year that stated school letter grades could improve, but they could not fall. The legislation came after the state switched from the ISTEP standardized test to ILEARN, a longer, adaptive test that resulted in lower pass rates for the state’s annual standardized test.

The state issues letter grades for each school corporation and for each individual school. Locally, Greater Jasper received an A, Northeast Dubois received a B, North Spencer received an A, Southeast Dubois received an A and Southwest Dubois received a B.

Within Greater Jasper, Jasper High School received an A, Jasper Middle School received a B, Ireland Elementary received a B, Tenth Street School received a B and Fifth Street School received a B.

Holy Trinity Catholic School, which is part of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, received an A.

At Northeast Dubois, Northeast Dubois High School received a B, Dubois Middle School received an A, Celestine Elementary received a B and Dubois Elementary received a B.

At North Spencer, all schools received As.

At Southeast Dubois, Forest Park Junior-Senior High School received an A, Cedar Crest Intermediate received a B, Ferdinand Elementary received an A and Pine Ridge Elementary received an A.

At Southwest Dubois, Southridge High School received a B, Southridge Middle School received an A, Huntingburg Elementary received a B and Holland Elementary received an A.

Southridge Middle School’s A is a major improvement from the 2017-18 letter grade, which was a C. It’s also an uncommon improvement. While schools can often improve from one letter grade to the next — B to A, for example — jumping up two letter grades is more of a challenge.

According to data compiled by the Indiana Department of Education, only 32 schools improved from a C to an A from the 2015-16 to 2016-17 school years. Again, only 32 schools improved from C to A between 2016-17 and 2017-18. Even fewer schools jumped from D to B or F to C in both years.

“Our kids gave us their best efforts,” Southridge Middle School Principal Greg Gogel said when asked about his school’s improvement. “We wanted to see how far we could push and how well our students would do.”

To make the push, Gogel said his team adjusted their class schedules to allow more time for individualized instruction. That change made sure students who performed above average got challenging coursework while those who were at or below average got additional support to improve. Gogel said the school culture also shifted to look at educating students and obtaining good standardized test scores as more of a team effort. Although standardized tests focus on math and language arts, at Southridge Middle School, science and social studies teachers realized they also have a part to play in preparing students for the tests, as they, too, can teach math and literacy skills in their content areas.

“It’s not all about the test, but it’s still exciting to see [the A letter grade] happen,” Gogel said.

Gogel and his staff are still looking for ways to improve instruction. At the beginning of this school year — months before letter grades were released — the school added a math and language arts extension period to get even more instruction in those core subjects, and the math department added a period of paced math for seventh grade. Paced math teaches the same standards as the regular math class, but instruction and teaching styles cater more to struggling students.

Gogel and his staff hope the additional changes will result in a higher level of growth this year, especially among special education students and English language learners.

“We definitely can show growth in [special education] and our [English language learner] groups,” Gogel said.

At North Spencer, educators also celebrated once again having all As and acknowledge that it’s team effort across all grade levels and across the community as a whole.

“We’re proud of our students, our staff and our community,” said North Spencer Superintendent Dan Scherry.

For Scherry, consistently receiving As tells him that the educators in his corporation respond well to the diverse socioeconomic backgrounds of North Spencer’s students and help all the students grow each year.

“It’s validation again of the hard work our teachers do,” he said.

Although the high letter grades serve as a validation for local schools, educators agree they are not useful in gauging how students are doing in the present. The grades are heavily based off standardized tests that happened a year ago, and it’s now more than halfway through the next school year.

“It’s March now,” Southeast Dubois Superintendent Jamie Pund said. “And these grades are reflective of the previous school year.”

To ensure students continue to improve and keep up in class, Pund said educators rely heavily on day-to-day assessments in the classroom and other progress assessments teachers administer throughout the year. “We focus much more on more timely data,” Pund said.

Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang echoed Pund’s comments, adding that the hold harmless legislation makes the letter grades even more insignificant. Without taking the latest test scores into account, the grades are based on even older data. Still, the hold harmless legislation was a good measure, given the major change to the standardized test.

“The new test was a challenge for everyone,” Hochgesang said. “It was a big change, but we’ll get used to it and adapt.”

Regardless of standardized tests and letter grades, the focus for local educators remains on the day-to-day instruction of students and ensuring they learn the skills and concepts needed for the current school year.

“We do the best we can every day,” Hochgesang said. “We do the best we can for our kids. That’s really the most important thing.”




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