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November 1, 2012

School accountability results mixed

WASHINGTON — School accountability grades were released statewide Wednesday and, like test scores, local results were mixed.

Some schools received high marks, while some were left struggling for another year.  

The highest grade, A, went to four schools in the area, Barr-Reeve Middle/High, North Daviess Jr./Sr. High, Veale Elementary and North Elementary. On the opposite end, one school, Lena Dunn Elementary, received an F on the state’s accountability scale.

Washington’s school grades followed trends found in their ISTEP results released earlier this year. North and Veale led the city with A grades. The two schools also received the top mark in 2011.

After the two elementaries, the grades then drop lower. Washington High School and Washington Junior High received Cs while Griffith Elementary School earned a D for 2012.

While the letter grades do not show it, there have been improvements in the high school, especially in math. Since the implementation of a new algebra mastery program two years ago, passing rates have increased 20 percent and now 84 percent of students pass the 10th grade exam for graduation.

The high school also received perfect marks in college and career readiness program, and its graduation rate is at 83 percent, the highest in a decade.

“Our mastery-based approach for algebra has allowed our students to learn at the pace they need to be successful,” Washington assistant superintendent Paul White said. “Students that need reteaching and more time to learn the content get the opportunity. This has been a really successful approach that our teachers and students have come to believe in, and I think the results are there to show that it is working.”

Then there is Lena Dunn.

Lena Dunn, which sees 98 percent of its children on free and reduced lunches based on poverty, will strive for improvement. The school has done so in the past, when faced with declines in the federal No Child Left Behind data.

“We will continue to strive to close the achievement gap for our students at Lena Dunn,” Lena Dunn Principal Brenda Butcher said. “We are focusing on our core curriculum, data driven instruction and best practice strategies. Our top priority academically is to increase the reading level for all students.”

Washington Superintendent Daniel Roach said previously the grade does not reflect the work teachers have done at the school. To show support, the Washington School Board will hold a walkthrough of the school at 8 a.m. Friday to talk with teachers and staff in support of their work.

Grades are based on a state Department of Education formula of test scores, graduation rate and other readiness markers. The formula has been revised in 2012, the state said, and does not hurt schools that already have high marks and keep them there.

Barr-Reeve schools is a good example. Last year, the middle and high school received a B although they were one of the top schools in the state in ISTEP scores. This year, their commitment to excellence was rewarded with an A grade.

But, the elementary school received a B, as did the primary school, and they had the top ISTEP scores in area schools.

“We were very happy with our scores,” Barr-Reeve Superintendent Travis Madison said. “We’ve had our best scores to date across the board. I don’t want it to be seen as a negative.”

Madison said he and the Barr-Reeve administrators and staff have been going through the data, and “had to come to an understanding” with them, especially at the elementary level.

“I didn’t want them to get discouraged,” Madison said. “We did very well.”

North Daviess Jr./Sr. High School made one of the largest improvements in the area in 2012. Last year, the school received a D grade, but this year, the students and faculty have an A.

“The staff has worked extremely hard over the past year or two,” North Daviess Superintendent Robert Bell said. “I think the major difference this year was the staff was using the data to drive instruction.”

ND’s elementary school maintained their grade and received a B from the state.

Statewide, 61 percent received As or Bs from the state accountability system.

In Martin County, all three Loogootee schools received a C while in Shoals, the high school received a C, but the elementary school was given a D.

Assistant Superintendent Mike Tippery said it is not a surprise given there was a small dip in ISTEP scores this year. But a bright point was math scores at the high school level being high, 3.5 points.

Superintendent Larry Weitkamp went on to say during an interview the system has flaws. For example, their graduation rate was 100 percent, but the sample wasn’t big enough for half-point bonus in the state’s formula.

“If (your school) is large enough, you can gain,” Weitkamp said. “We will see this for many smaller schools.”

Also, the two noted, there are some flaws in the formula because it uses data that might be at least two years old in some cases and does not give a clear picture of what is happening right now.

But, the schools are looking toward improving, Weitkamp said.

Washington Catholic, the only private school in the area given grades by the state, received a B at the elementary school, but the high school received a C. Both schools had As in 2011.

WC principal Karie Craney was unavailable for comment due to illness.

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