HANCOCK COUNTY — Three Hancock County schools now are considered A-rated by new state ranking standards, down from 14 last year, state data shows.
The Indiana Department of Education this week released new accountability ratings for Hoosier schools that showed a statewide decline in the number of schools that received the highest mark based on performance during the 2015-16 school year. Locally, 11 schools that were previously A-rated under an easier version of ISTEP fell to either a B or C.
Accountability grades present a snapshot of how schools perform and are tied to whether teachers receive stipends and bonuses.
For the first time, the department of education used a new student-centered strategy for rating schools.
Historically, elementary and middle school grades were assigned based on the number of students who passed ISTEP. This year, however, the DOE also considered student improvement on the state standardized test. Schools received boosted ratings if they demonstrated student growth n those exams.
When assigning A-F grades in 2015, state lawmakers voted to protect schools from being graded on the more difficult ISTEP, since it was the first year the test was being administered. That meant schools couldn’t receive lower letter grades than the 2013-14 school year.
But similar protections have not been granted this year.
In Hancock County, three schools receive A ratings: Doe Creek Middle School, Eden Elementary School and Eastern Hancock Middle School. Twelve schools received a B, five schools earned Cs and one school received a D. No Hancock County schools received an F-rating.
Mt. Vernon schools saw some of the lowest accountability grades in the county.
The district’s highest grade was a B at Mt. Vernon High School. Fortville Elementary, Mt. Comfort Elementary and the middle school received Cs, while McCordsville Elementary School received a D.
McCordsville Elementary slipped from a C in 2015 and 2014 to a D this year. The school’s ISTEP passing rates for 2016 fell about eight percentage points on the English potion of the test and 13 percentage point on the math section when compared with 2015 scores.
Superintendent Shane Robbins said while he’s disappointed in the grades schools received, the ratings have given educators a new sense of urgency in preparing for ISTEP.
“We know we need to do our very best on that test,” he said. “That’s our goal.”
This year, the district set up a secure data room in each school, where every student’s picture is posted to the wall along with data collected from various assessments, including ISTEP.
Educators will focus on that data to drive instruction and help students improve in areas where they struggle, Robbins said.
Greenfield-Central Schools Superintendent Harold Olin said he’s pleasantly surprised by the corporation’s grades this year, especially after seeing lower ISTEP scores than educators had wanted.
The district’s overall pass rate for the English portion of the exam was 71.6 percent, while 67.7 percent of students passed the math section.
Across the board, the district’s schools received Bs, except for Eden Elementary, which received the district’s only A.
Because half of the letter grade is based on whether students improved on the ISTEP exam, Olin believes many students in his corporation are growing in their learning.
“All in all, seven Bs and one A … isn’t bad; we’ll take it,” he said.
Three Southern Hancock schools received lower letter grades this year than last, but school administrators said they’re not panicked.
One school received an A rating this year, compared with 2015 and 2014 when four of the district’s five schools were A-rated.
New Palestine Elementary School saw the district’s lowest grade, a C.
Principal Katy Eastes said educators learned over the summer ISTEP scores were lower than in years past and began implementing new programs at the start of the year to better prepare students for the 2017 test, which will be administered in the spring.
The school launched an after-school tutoring program that’s free for students who need a little extra help learning a difficult concept. Educators also started a reading program in which adult mentors are paired with students struggling to read.
Teachers meet regularly to assess how students are doing, and Eastes is confident the school is taking the necessary steps to return to the A rating it previously received.
Educators at Eastern Hancock said they expected to see lower grades this year because of the more difficult ISTEP exam.
While the middle school maintained its A rating, the high school fell from an A to a B. The elementary school was rated a C, down two letter grades from last year.
The elementary school did well showing student improvement on the ISTEP, despite a lower overall passing rate, principal Amanda Pyle wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter.
It’s difficult to compare ISTEP scores and letter grades from year to year because the test frequently changes, Superintendent Vicki McGuire wrote in an email to the Daily Reporter. Teachers know what is best for students, she said, and they’ve learned to use ISTEP and other more reliable assessments to guide instruction.
Staff writer Kristy Deer contributed to this report.