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Indiana: 1/3 More Schools Rated as Failing

Ninety-nine Indiana schools have been named to a federal list for failing to meet expectations in 2004, up nearly a third from the year before.

Indianapolis schools make up more than a quarter of the "needs improvement" list, which state education officials released Wednesday. Between those schools placed on the list and those warned they could be added next year, more than half of the 79 schools in IPS face some form of academic watch.

"It's disappointing," said Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Duncan Pat Pritchett, whose term as the head of the state's largest district ends June 30.

The federal No Child Left Behind law requires schools that receive Title I money for poor and minority students to improve on state tests every year and keep attendance and graduation rates stable.

Schools that fail to show progress for two years in a row are put on the list and face penalties that range from being taken over by the state to allowing their students to change schools. The penalties become more severe the longer a school stays on the list.

Of the 77 schools that made last year's list in Indiana, 11 improved enough for a second straight year to drop off.

One of them was School 21 on the city's Eastside. Principal Carole Ervin-Brown said her school evaluated students constantly, adjusted lessons to fit state academic standards and worked with underachievers individually.

"You've got to believe these children can learn," Ervin-Brown said. "You've got to have high expectations."

Wider testing

Thirty-three new schools were added to the "needs improvement" list this year, state records show.

More Indiana schools struggled this year, in part because the number of students who took the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus last fall more than doubled, the state's top education official said Wednesday. The state test expanded to students in Grades 3-10, four more grades than in the past.

No Child Left Behind tries to ensure that poor, minority and disadvantaged students make progress and requires schools with more than a few of these students to show those children are moving ahead.

If one group at a school -- such as special education students, those living in poverty or those learning English -- shows too little progress, the entire school flunks. With more children taking tests, schools had more such categories large enough to require reporting.

Suellen Reed, the state's superintendent of public instruction, pointed out that 60 percent of schools met their annual goals, known in schools as adequate yearly progress. The percentage is down from 76 percent last year.

"Of course our goal is for all of our students" to make yearly progress, Reed said. "We'll not be satisfied until we make that goal."

In fact, federal law requires that all students pass reading and math tests by 2014. The yearly progress reports push schools toward that goal by gradually increasing the number of students required to pass the exams.

Special-education worries

Most of the schools that failed to hit yearly progress missed in only one or two categories, Reed said. Special education was the most-missed area. "I would say that's where we need to do some work," Reed said.

But many school administrators Wednesday blasted what they call a disadvantage for high-poverty schools, which are forced to meet the same benchmarks as their wealthier counterparts.

"Whenever you have that level of poverty, single-parenting and those types of issues, there's a lot to overcome," said Superintendent Doug Williams of Perry Township Schools, which had three schools on the list.

This year marks the first time that some Indiana schools slipped to the lowest improvement level under federal law because they have missed annual targets for six years in a row.

Nine schools in IPS, Evansville, Hammond and Gary face management overhauls because they hit that bottom level.

"Teachers have worked hard. This administration has tried to do all it could, but sometimes circumstances overwhelm your best efforts," said Hammond Superintendent Walter Watkins, who will replace a principal, cut class sizes and hire specialized employees to overhaul Lafayette Elementary School. Watkins said Lafayette made the academic strides it needed to show yearly progress, but attendance rates in some student categories dragged down the high-poverty, ethnically diverse school.

A bright spot for Hammond, however, is that its Caldwell Elementary School was among 13 schools that avoided the worst improvement level because the school made the required annual progress. Watkins credits teacher training, revamped classroom strategies and the decision to extend the school day by a half-hour.

Indiana releases its school improvement results earlier than many other states because Hoosiers take a fall state test. Most states test students in the spring, which delays results until the fall.

Researchers expect more schools to show up on the "needs improvement" list as time passes because the expectations rise as the federal deadline to have all students pass nears.

"It's going to go up," said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States. "It's just a question of how steep is that incline and when will it jump?"

— Staci Hupp
Indianapolis Star
2005-06-09
http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050609/NEWS01/506090490/-1/RSS


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