Indiana State Board of Education

A to F grades released; Indiana schools see few big moves

Indiana’s A to F school grades, the linchpin of months of state board fights, finally were released Friday. But they showed little change.

About half of the 1,824 graded public schools statewide got the same grade as last year. Across Indiana, about the same percentage of public schools got an A (44.4 percent) as well as F (5.7 percent) as in 2012. Indiana State Board of Education approval of the grades ended a two-month tug-of-war with state Superintendent Glenda Ritz about when they should be issued.

Find your school’s grade here.

“I want to thank Indiana’s educators, administrators, parents, and most importantly, students for their patience and countless hours of work over the last academic year,” Ritz said in a statement. “Though this current model for calculating school accountability grades will be changing, the data does show that some great learning is occurring in our schools, and I want to congratulate our students for their successes.”

An expected debate between Ritz and the state board over issues of how the state board meetings are managed fizzled Friday. Instead, the board approved some changes to its procedures but deferred the most contentious issues for further discussion.

A long delay

The grades were delayed, Ritz said, because of glitches with the online administration of ISTEP in May. The company that creates ISTEP, CTB McGraw-Hill, accepted blame for the problems at a state board meeting over the summer. Almost 80,000 students in grades 3 to 8 reported interruptions, such as frozen screens or being forced to log on repeatedly, while taking the state exam.

After an evaluation of those affected students’ tests, a consultant ruled just 1,400 should be invalidated, which Ritz said had minimal impact on their schools’ grades. Still, schools asked for many affected tests to be rescored. Ritz said that slowed the release of the grades, which last year came out on Oct. 31.

But the state board grew impatient. In October, the 10 other board members sent a letter asking Republican legislative leaders to have the Legislative Service Agency calculate the grades. Ritz unsuccessfully sued the board in the response, claiming her fellow board members violated state transparency laws when they discussed sending the letter without her via email. By statute, Ritz chairs the state board.

Ultimately the grades were released even later than Ritz’s proposed late November timeline.

Growth scores have impact

This was the second year the grades included a complex test score growth calculation, pushed by former Superintendent Tony Bennett, that was meant to reward schools when their students make test score gains compared to students with similar prior test scores and demographic attributes.

Oddities that were noted last year continued this year. Two schools swung from an A last year to an F this year, compared with five last year. Nine school jumped from F to A this year, including Indianapolis Public School 88. Eight made that leap last year.

For all schools, 30 percent statewide saw their grades fall, about the same as last year. Slightly fewer made gains over the prior year — 26 percent in 2013 compared with 19 percent in 2012.

Charters match urban schools

Charter schools, which drawn mostly from high poverty neighborhoods, saw far fewer A’s (20 percent) and more D’s and F’s (60 percent) than the state at large for the 62 charter schools graded in 2013. But charter performance mirrored other high poverty schools. Of IPS’ 66 graded schools, for example, 15 percent earned A’s while 57 percent earned D’s or F’s.

All five schools that were taken over by the state and turned over to be run independently by outside organizations last year saw their grades remain at F. Four of those are former IPS schools: Donnan Middle School and Howe, Arlington and Manual high schools.

Changes ahead

This is the last year Indiana schools will be graded this way.

Since Ritz defeated Bennett in the 2012 election, the formula he pushed for A to F grades lost its champion. The legislature earlier this year passed a bill mandated a new system. In particular, lawmakers aimed to scrap the growth measure.

For next year, state officials are constructing a system the defines growth based on how much closer students got to a passing score, or how far beyond that score they reached. The state board expect to approve the new grading scheme by July 2014.


First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.