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November 1, 2012

Department of Education releases its controversial grades for schools

23 of 27 Vigo County schools rated in top three categories

TERRE HAUTE — Eighteen Vigo County schools received As and Bs, five received Cs, two scored Ds and two (including one now closed) got an F under the state’s A-F school category placement.

Results were made public after a state Board of Education meeting Wednesday. Category placements are part of Public Law 221.

“I’m very proud of our grades overall, but I know we have areas of concern,” said Superintendent Dan Tanoos.

The district successfully appealed some of the original grades.

Schools receiving an A are: Fuqua, Dixie Bee, Farrington Grove, Fayette, Lost Creek, Rio Grande, Sugar Creek Consolidated and Sugar Grove elementaries, and Terre Haute North Vigo and South Vigo high schools.

Those receiving a B are: DeVaney, Deming, Honey Creek Middle School, Hoosier Prairie Elementary, Otter Creek Middle School, Ouabache Elementary, Riley Elementary and West Vigo High School.

Schools receiving a C are: Franklin, Meadows and Terre Town elementaries, as well as West Vigo Middle School and Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

Sarah Scott Middle School and Davis Park Elementary received a D, while West Vigo Elementary and the now-closed Chauncey Rose Middle School received an F.

This year, 23 out of 27 schools were in the top three categories, or 85.2 percent, said Karen Goeller deputy superintendent. Last year, 24 out of 29 schools were in the top three categories, or 82.7 percent. (Washington and McLean alternative schools were not counted this year).

The School Board has asked Tanoos to place a special focus on helping the schools with Ds and Fs so they can improve. “We’ll really ramp up our efforts” at those schools, he said.

Also, the state has assigned someone to work with those schools that received grades of D and F, Tanoos said.

That “technical support” person has met with central office staff and will visit those schools to provide suggestions for improvement, Goeller said.

But Tanoos also noted district officials don’t need a state A-F ranking system to tell them how schools are doing.

“It tells us nothing more than what we already knew about our schools, but now it puts a big target and label on schools that are in the areas of most need,” he said.

Schools with high percentages of children living in poverty, as well as high percentages of special needs and other at-risk children, face greater challenges and may have lower test scores, he said.

Goeller noted that West Vigo Elementary, which received an F this year, made the “exemplary” category (now labeled as an A) in 2010.

Davis Park Elementary made an A (or A equivalent) in three of the past five years. This year, it received a D.

“There is great inconsistency,” Goeller said.

The new system (for elementary and middle school) uses a growth model that compares academic peers, but doesn’t differentiate based on socio-economic factors. The state A-F formula bases its definition of “high growth and “low growth” not on how much students actually grow in one year, but on how much they grow relative to other students, Goeller explained.

“The problem with the A-F model is that it assumes you can make a comparison of how a child progresses from year to year based only on the school and the teacher,” she said. “But you have all these outside variables that impact the progress of a child in significant ways.”  

West Vigo Elementary and Davis Park were hurt by “low growth,” in which students “did not make comparable growth to peers across the state,” Goeller said.

Both schools lost two points on a four-point scale as a result.

Goeller noted that at West Vigo Elementary, 80.2 percent of the children meet poverty guidelines, compared to 45 percent statewide. Also, 30 percent of its children are special needs, compared to 14.4 percent statewide.

If a school receives an F for six years in a row, it faces possible state takeover, Goeller said.

While some schools with high poverty rates are struggling, Tanoos noted that others “are showing good signs of growth.” Fuqua and Farrington Grove schools both received an A, while Deming and DeVaney received a B.

Susan Shackelford, Rio Grande Elementary principal, said that when the school learned it received an A, “We cheered and patted eachother on the back.” Then, “We went back to work.”

The staff “continues to work really hard every minute of every day,” Shackelford said. “I’m sure other schools are working just as hard.”

Woodrow Wilson Middle School was one of five schools to receive a C, or a 2.75 on a 4.0 scale, which Principal Sharon Pitts said is really more a C+.

Her biggest concern with the new system is that “we pit schools against one another,” she said. Schools with high poverty and special education rates will have a harder time making top grades.

Also, the new growth system does not differentiate based on a school’s socio-economic factors.

Under the new system, no one can really say what those grades mean, Pitts said. “I really do believe teachers are working harder than they ever have.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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