No ‘A’ for effort from state
La PORTE COUNTY – Using a complex formula based on ISTEP scores, student “growth,” graduation rates and college-readiness, the state has released accountability grades for school corporations and schools. To call them complicated and controversial is an understatement.
For the School Corporation Accountability Grade, Michigan City Area Schools received a C for the 2017-18 school year. Every other La Porte County district – La Porte Community Schools, MSD of New Durham Township, South Central Community Schools, New Prairie United School Corp. and Tri-Town Community Schools – got a B.
But the focus among administrators was more on individual school grades, which are even more complicated.
For MCAS, scores ranged from an A at Knapp Elementary (which also got an A in 2016-17) to D grades at Barker (D last year) and Krueger (up from an F) middle schools, and Pine Elementary (down from a C).
There are also letter grades given out by the U.S. Dept. of Education, and in most cases, state grades were the same or higher. Michigan City High School maintained its B from the state, and got a C on the federal list.
“We are pleased that Michigan City High School earned a grade of B again this year,” MCAS Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins said. “This reflects a strong graduation rate, growth in achievement among students who were struggling academically, and programs such as Early College, AP, and career and technical education that provide our students with opportunities to earn dual credits or industry certifications.”
Eason-Watkins was also “pleased that Knapp maintained an A, and growth in achievement at Marsh Elementary (from a C to a B) and Krueger Middle School led to improvement in those grades.”
Of the drop at Pine, she said, “Pine saw a 3 percent decline in English/Language Arts achievement on ISTEP this year, leading to a low growth score that impacted its grade. This school year they are focusing intently on improvement strategies for this area.”
Marquette Catholic High School, part of the Diocese of Gary, saw its state grade fall from an A to a B (Private schools don’t get corporation grades, nor federal scores.).
The drop did not sit well with administrators, according to spokesman Bradley Collignon.
“I spoke with both Jim (White, Marquette president) and Ally (principal Allyson Headd) ... Basically what happened was the state reporting was done hastily, and, ultimately, incorrectly. We attempted to re-submit, but it was after the deadline. ... the accountability report released next year at this time will reflect that.”
He explained one factor in grades is graduation rate and gave an example that can be “misleading” for grades: “An international student may decide to return to their home country after sophomore year. We’re at the mercy of the student to tell us where they’re continuing their schooling. If we don’t get that information, or it’s not reported correctly, that student is considered a dropout.
“The same if there’s a divorce in the family, and a kid moves across country with dad. The student is removed and we don’t know where their next school is. He/she may be in a classroom in Colorado, but if we don’t know, that student would also be considered a dropout and negatively affect our graduation rate.”
Marquette will be “much more diligent in state reporting” in the future, Collignon said.
At the Metropolitan School District of New Durham Township, Westville High and Elementary schools both got a B.
“Westville schools had an improvement in school letter grades for the 2017-18 school year,” Supt. Sandra Wood said. “For the high school, our state letter grade was a B (82.7), up from a C (75.3).
“On the federal report card, which looks at different data mandated by ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), including absenteeism ... the high school is a C, due to the lower graduation rate calculated by federal standards.”
At the elementary level, she said, “We received a B on both report cards, which is the same grade received in 2016-17. The corporation also received a B, which is an improvement from a C last year.
“The improvement we see is indicative of the hard work that teachers, students and administrators are investing into curriculum improvements, individualized instruction and learning goals,” Wood said.
MC’s Eason-Watkins said the state formula can be a headache.
“The ISTEP and the complex formula used by the state and federal governments to calculate letter grades has challenged our elementary and middle schools, as it has many schools across our state,” she said.
“Each of our schools has developed specific strategies to accelerate growth and achievement. We will continue to focus on academic improvement and growth, K-12.”
Collignon agreed, saying a letter grade is probably not the most accurate way to assess a school.
“Overall,” he said, “I don’t think there’s a single metric that can fully and accurately assess a school. I mean, we can say our football team leads the country in fewest losses, but obviously, some context is essential. Ultimately, our students are graduating, and attending colleges and universities where they’re equipped to succeed.”
Wood said the letter grade is just a guidance.
“We do not place extreme emphasis on this letter grade, as it represents only a snapshot of the great things happening at Westville schools; however, the state report card does confirm for us that the strategic planning and instructional development that we have been working on is moving our district in the right direction and promoting positive student learning outcomes.”
The Indiana Department of Education said about 22 percent of schools in the state improved one or more letter grades, with nearly 9 percent improving to an A. Overall, close to 64 percent received an A or B.
“Our current accountability grades are an indication of the great education Indiana students are receiving,” Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, said. “Our work is paying off and we will continue to partner with dedicated stakeholders to ensure every school and every student is successful.”
IDOE also said about 67 percent of public schools received the same grade for both the state and federal systems, with 31 percent receiving a higher grade from the state.
Corportation report cards
Overall grades from Indiana Department of Education
Michigan City Area Schools: C
La Porte Community Schools: B
MSD of New Durham Township: B
South Central Community Schools: B
New Prairie United Schools: B
Tri-Town Consolidated Schools: B
Individual school report cards
La Porte High`B`B`C
New Prairie High`A`B`A
New Prairie Middle`B`B`B
Private schools (no federal score)
Queen All Saints`X`B
X - Appealing letter grade