Nov 17, 2023 - Education

Performance gap persists at Indianapolis Public Schools

Illustration of a standardized test answer sheet with a cursor

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Some of the highest-performing public schools in Marion County are part of the Indianapolis Public Schools district.

Yes, but: The district also houses some of the lowest-performing.

Why it matters: The state's largest school district is in the midst of a massive reorganization aimed at shrinking the wide academic performance gap between schools and students.

What's happening: The district's "Rebuilding Stronger" initiative is reconfiguring middle school grades, setting a minimum standard for academic programs and course offerings at all schools and working to replicate high-performing school models.

  • "When we looked across the district, some of the reasons we started on this journey was because of the variance we saw in the opportunities available to students, depending on the school that they chose," superintendent Aleesia Johnson told Axios.
  • One example: Next school year, all district-managed middle schools will offer Honors Algebra I, Honors Geometry, Spanish I and Honors Biology.

State of play: On the most recent ILEARN exams, several IPS schools were among the top scoring in Marion County, including Sidener Academy, where nearly 70% of students passed both the English and math portions — the highest percentage of all public schools in the county.

  • Dozens of IPS schools, though, had fewer than 10% of students achieve the same.

Meanwhile, fewer IPS schools ranked among top performers when looking at pass rates for both portions of the ILEARN test among Black and Hispanic students, who make up a majority of the district's population.

  • "That is problematic and we know that," Johnson said. "So, we can't be satisfied… We have, across all of our schools, a lot of work to do."

Be smart: Test scores rarely, if ever, tell the full story of school performance.

  • Scores often correlate closely with demographic factors like family income.
  • Challenges like mobility and greater proportions of high-need students often determine a school's performance on standardized tests.

Still, kids need to be proficient in reading, writing and math — despite the challenges they may face — to be set up for success later in life.

  • "We know the pace of improvement has to continue to accelerate," Johnson said.

The latest: The state launched new performance dashboards designed to show more than test scores, providing a more holistic picture of school performance and health.

  • Some data is still being added to the dashboard, but you can search for individual schools or corporations here.
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