At the November 17 Agenda Review Session, the Indianapolis Public Schools Board of School Commissioners reviewed updates on an initiative to improve graduation and attendance rates, district reaction to preliminary ISTEP+ results, and the successes and challenges at Arlington High School.

Dropout Prevention & Graduation Rates

Commissioners received an update on the district’s dropout prevention initiatives from Deputy Superintendent for Academics Dr. Wanda H. Legrand and Director of Graduation and Alternative Services Lisa Brenner. The 10-member Graduation and Alternative Services team has three distinct goals: decrease dropout rates, increase student attendance and increase the IPS graduation rate. Through intervention services and strategic supports, the team is working to identify students at risk of dropping out and providing them the necessary supports for academic success. Increasing attendance is key, as poor attendance is a predictor of dropout potential. The team is also creating district-wide processes and procedures to monitor and analyze student data to provide targeted supports with the goal of increasing graduation rates. Transcript audits have been completed for all IPS juniors and seniors; the results will be shared with school support teams to ensure any students requiring additional services will receive necessary supports to catch up with their cohort.

ISTEP+ Update

Director of Research, Evaluation & Assessment Dr. Yvonne Stokes shared updates with Commissioners regarding the district’s preliminary ISTEP+ results. Dr. Stokes reminded Commissioners it is important to remember that preliminary results are subject to change as score adjustments are awarded and rescore requests are granted.

The 2015 ISTEP+ is a new assessment based on new standards; because of these factors, a decline in scores was anticipated by state education leaders. The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) issued public statements noting states implementing similar changes to assessments demonstrated a 16% to 24% overall decline in scores. Dr. Stokes shared a summary of the IPS results; as was the case with several school corporations, in English/Language Arts (ELA) a majority of schools demonstrated a 20% decline, while Math scores saw a 20-30% overall decline.

Students’ scores could raise based on two processes: score adjustment and rescoring. Students may receive up to 9 additional points through score adjustments, based on their grade level, the subject tested, and the type of test (paper versus electronic). During a brief window of time last week, parents were able to request a rescore of their student’s test online through the IDOE’s parent portal. IPS provided support to parents, sending letters and phone calls inviting families to visit their school for assistance in navigating the portal to request a rescore. If a student’s test is rescored, the higher result between the original score and the rescore will be counted in the official results. In previous years, school districts had the ability to request rescores, now the option is only available to parents, creating an additional obstacle.

Dr. Stokes and Dr. Legrand both commented that ISTEP+ is a summative assessment – a one-time snapshot of student proficiency. IPS completes formative assessments throughout the year, which inform classroom instruction by providing teachers with real-time data on student progress. You can learn more about the district’s formative assessments here.

Commissioners discussed with Superintendent Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee the effect of the state’s delay in releasing test scores on teacher compensation. IPS and the Indianapolis Education Association, the bargaining unit for district teachers, reached a collective bargaining agreement this summer including raises for teachers. State statute requires teachers to be rated “effective” or “highly effective” to qualify for compensation increases, and ISTEP+ scores are a factor in a teacher’s rating for the school year.

“We want to ensure that we are in alignment with statute and that we do not violate that by providing compensation without that additional piece for evaluation of teachers,” said Dr. Ferebee. “If we get information in December that can inform that process, we will definitely apply it and ensure that teachers are paid as soon as possible. We’ve been in constant communication with the Indianapolis Education Association so they can inform teachers as well. This is not an IPS issue…this is an issue of having dramatic delays in testing results associated with compensation. We will provide that compensation as soon as we can, and of course all of that compensation will be retroactive.”

Arlington HS Update

Arlington High School is in its first year back in the IPS family, returning from state takeover. Academic Improvement Officer (AIO) Jesse Pratt, Principal Stan Law, and Director of Transformation Cheryl Beeson shared a status update on Arlington with Commissioners.

Arlington opened the school year with 607 students, and enrollment has remained steady throughout the year. The team identified successes of the school’s first semester, including a series of community events, workshops to increase family engagement and foster stakeholder relationships, a fall break instructional camp to help students catch up on core skills, and Roadmaps to Success – a program encouraging freshmen to outline their 4-year high school plan to ensure goals are set and met at Arlington.

The team also identified challenges at the beginning of the school’s reset with IPS. These included staffing (many early-career teachers are employed at Arlington, posing a need for additional supports), student scheduling, school climate, student/teacher relationships, and a need for more rigorous instruction.

A variety of supports have been implemented to ensure continued growth and increased success at Arlington. The Transformation Zone team – including Pratt, Beeson, and academic coaches – provides coaching and professional development. Additional staff members, including a dean and three behavior intervention specialists, have been added to the Arlington team. As part of a Transformation Zone, Mass Insight is providing school readiness assessment and instructional support throughout the year. The Arlington community has been essential in the school’s efforts as well; alumni are donating their time and money to support the school, and community members are volunteering as mentors and monitors to build relationships with Arlington students. The NAACP also has a great presence within Arlington.

Next steps for the Arlington leadership team include monitoring the Positive Behavior Intervention Support program recently implemented at the school, continuing the mentorship initiative providing support for new teachers, and regular building walkthroughs by administrators to identify areas of success as well as those in need of support.