News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 14, 2014

Raising the grade: Plan for Sarah Scott ISTEP improvement topic of meeting

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Teachers are teaching “bell to bell,” and great efforts are under way to get parents and guardians at Sarah Scott Middle School involved in their children’s education, particularly for students struggling academically and on ISTEP.

That was part of the message from Bruce Lautenschlager, the middle school’s first-year principal, during a public hearing Monday related to the school’s “F” grade from the state for 2013 in category placement.

By law, hearings must be conducted for schools that place in the lowest category. Sarah Scott staff attended the meeting at the administration building, but no members of the public commented.

Category placement, part of Indiana Public Law 221, is based primarily on student performance on ISTEP-Plus, or the percentage of students passing the test.

But a school’s score can be raised or lowered based on student academic growth on ISTEP.

Lautenschlager discussed the school’s efforts to help students improve and to raise Sarah Scott’s overall grade.

Among those measures:

n Teachers are contacting families of students who are not performing well in class and on ISTEP. They are making contact with parents/guardians to increase communication and to discuss how parents/guardians can help students be successful.

n Starting immediately, the school’s advisory period will have English and math instruction every day. This will provide additional help for students underperforming on ISTEP and provide enrichment for students who are performing at passing level but also have to show growth, the principal said.

n Parent meetings with an academic focus are taking place. “We are reaching out to parents to make them feel welcome at the school and become aware of what we are asking their students to do academically,” he said.

n At Title 1 parent meetings, staff members are sharing school ISTEP data and talking to parents about how they can help improve student test scores.

n The school has initiatives to recognize students who have perfect attendance and make honor roll.

n There is a Reading Counts initiative and a Word of the Week program to improve writing.

“Teachers are teaching bell to bell, and we have found there has been much community support for the school and much pride in our school,” Lautenschlager said.

Karen Goeller, VCSC deputy superintendent, said the district has had time to review category placement grades for other middle schools in the Indiana Urban Schools Association. These are middle schools in similar districts with a high number of students from low-income backgrounds.

“We found that over half of those middle schools have a ‘D’ or an ‘F’,” Goeller said. “While we are not pleased to be in that category, it is important to put the urban schools in context in terms of the difficulty of the test as well as the context of the population of the students that we are serving.”

It is more challenging for students in urban schools to achieve growth compared with peers in more affluent schools, she said.

The grading system has an emphasis on how much improvement on the test is achieved by the bottom 25 percent of students at each school. “The bottom 25 percent of a high poverty school looks very different than the bottom 25 percent of a more affluent school,” Goeller said.

After the 10-minute hearing, Lautenschlager said the “F” grade is disheartening for staff “because they are working hard and they are trying to have the students achieve at a high level.”

School staff “dive into the data and look at what the data [are] telling us,” he said.

While they may get discouraged, “you just dust yourself off and go after it again the next day,” he said.

He and Goeller pointed out that 85 percent of Sarah Scott students are on free/reduced-cost lunch and more than 30 percent are special-needs students.

After the hearing, Superintendent Dan Tanoos said, “I know the staff at Sarah Scott works very hard every day to meet the needs of the students.”

But because the school is in the lowest category, “we have to work even harder than we are today to ensure we get out of that lowest category. No one wants that label. We’re not going to change the law, so we have to live within the rules and regulations and just provide that extra little bit on top of what they are already doing to ensure we get out of that category.”

Last month, when school grades were released by the state, Goeller noted that Sarah Scott is now a priority school in terms of Title 1; that means they are going to be monitored by the state for their progress over the upcoming year. The state will make site visits. Last year, the school had a “D.”

An “F” grade for two years in a row places a school on the continuum for state takeover, but one year does not, she said.

The school’s ISTEP performance has been adequate, but “low growth is the problem” in both language arts and math, Goeller said last month.

The school will look at individual students who are not showing growth and which circumstances or challenges those students may face, she said in December. These challenges might relate to poverty, mobility (changing residences and schools) or special needs.

The school will look at ways to address those challenges and help students achieve growth on ISTEP.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or