— It was a positive aura statewide when Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett released ISTEP scores for the 2011-12 school year. Hendricks County schools were front and center as both Brownsburg and Northwest Hendricks school corporations ranked in the top six in the state out of 293 districts for the percentage of students passing English and math.
BCSC saw 88.3 percent of its students passing both math and English, while NWH saw 88.2 percent do the same. Plainfield, Avon, and Mill Creek school corporations all saw passing percentages in both subjects north of 84 percent, at 85.2, 84.9, and 84.8 percents respectively. Danville schools saw a jump as well to a 74.3 percent pass rate on both.
Brownsburg soared to fifth in the state, and Superintendent Jim Snapp effused praise for both dedicated teachers and students.
“Well, I’m thrilled, but really this demonstrates the dedication of our teachers and students this past year,” Snapp said. “Certainly we had very good scores and performance last year, but to make that jump to the top five in the state ... we were really pleased.”
Snapp highlighted where he felt there was help, and lauded the pass plus hike the BCSC had, which shows students previously not passing to passing this year.
“Our teachers are just so, so focused on each student,” he said. “We instituted the early release program on Wednesdays where the students go home 30 minutes early and teachers meet for about an hour and really focus on the students and their learning, and not only has it helped students who passed, but also those who have not passed to pass.
“That’s what you see that’s indicative of the jump from last year to the top five this year, but a piece of that information that’s often overlooked is our pass plus percentage. It jumped from 39 percent in math to 47 percent and in English from 25 percent to 30 percent, so I think that additional time on Wednesdays, while it seems counter intuitive to think less time with students means they learn more, but a reasonable person couldn’t argue with the data and the gains we saw in the pass plus category.”
NWH Superintendent Rusty King was just as proud of his own successful school district.
“We were really pleased,” he said. “We’ve been scoring in that top area for about three to four years now, and we’re really happy about it.”
He said Northwest Hendricks had been a fixture in the top five in the state for the past four years.
“We’ve been working in the area of quality schools, which looks at the end in mind and where do you want to be and how do you get there and what do you need to do,” he said. “We’ve done extensive work with differentiated instruction, understanding by design where you look at the end in mind with an emphasis on mastery of the skills before the students go on and the teachers are re-teaching the stuff if the kids don’t really get it the first time. They’re not just covering material, it’s in depth to make sure the individual kids understand it.
“Our teachers look deep at the data ... where are they strong, weak, where do we need to work on? I’d say our biggest reason (for success) is our whole concept of mastering the data and finding out what it tells us about what each individual student is doing.”
Mill Creek Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Spray also cited heavy research done by teachers that aids their success rates.
“I’d say it’s just paying attention to the system we have in place for interventions,” Spray said. “We use a variety of programs. You may have one canned program that works well for one population and one that works well for another. It’s just a matter of us taking the time and using the student data to make improvements.
“I guess what I’d say is, it’s the result of really hard work by our teachers, and school principals with those teachers, and really the students. These things don’t happen by accident.”
Spray added that ISTEP is not the only test they use to measure success.
“Teachers use information to change instruction and it’s been really hard work on their part,” he explained.
Cardinal Elementary School in Brownsburg saw the largest gain in both subjects, coming in at a 10.7 percent gain from 2011, nearly twice better than any other individual school in the county other than Cascade Middle School, which showed a gain of just over 9 percent in terms of passing both subjects.
Brentwood Elementary School in Plainfield led all individual schools in passing both subjects, seeing 95.2 percent of its students having success in both English and math.
Scott Olinger, superintendent of Plainfield schools, praised the constant oversight the corporation’s teachers have with the students, leading to similar success as last year in terms of their scores.
“Overall, we were very pleased with our scores,” he said. “They’re very similar to last year. It’s all about continued improvement and trying to improve each year, and each of our buildings work at making sure we are constantly monitoring the students every year and looking at areas we’re doing well and areas we need to improve, so continuous monitoring of scores helps for this high stakes test.”
Avon Assistant Superintendent Dr. Maryanne McMahon pointed out a new textbook program that helped them achieve added success in math.
“We were very pleased to see that over 92 percent of our students have passed in mathematics and I think it’s due to a recent textbook adoption last year called EnVision,” McMahon explained. “EnVision has a very clear scope and sequence that matches the curriculum, as well as a very strong technology component. Between our teachers’ understanding of math and having great materials, we’ve been able to make those improvements.
“At the district level we like to study trends data so I’m always encouraged when our district data is showing a gain. That’s a tribute to principals and teachers for the hard work they do every day and for finding out what students need in the moment now more than ever to show improvement.”
Danville’s improvement came with the heightened focus on literacy in the schools, something paramount in importance, said Superintendent Dr. Denis Ward. He also pointed out that while he was happy with improvement, there are still goals to meet and he looks forward to reaching those in the coming years.
“We believe literacy is the foundation for student achievement,” he said. “I think that in the years to come it will help us to improve our student achievement levels and, while we’re happy to improve from one year to the next, we’re still disappointed with our overall pass rates. We’d love to see them at the 90 percent level or higher, and that’s what we’re going to be striving for. So if you look at it in that perspective, we’re disappointed. But we’re happy that we’re showing gains.
“We’re just being more consistent in our instruction strategies across the district and focusing this week on using common vocabulary throughout our grade levels and making sure that we spend the appropriate amount of time each and every day working with our students on their literacy skills.”
West Lafayette finished as the top school district in the state, edging out Carmel, who was best last year.
For more information or a full breakdown of state ISTEP scores, as well as how each individual corporation fared, visit the website at in.gov/doe/istep.