Marshall County Schools make the grade

MARSHALL COUNTY — The long awaited grades for the schools that serve Marshall County students were released late Friday morning by the Indiana Department of Education.

For the seven school districts which serve Marshall County, there was not a failing school among the 22 on the list. Only one, Culver Middle School, earned a D grade, the lowest grade awaded to the county’s school districts.

Ten of these improved their scores, Ten stayed the same and only two schools went down a letter grade - Culver Elementary, from a B in 2012 to a C in 2013 and Bremen Elementary/Middle School, from an A in 2012 to a C in 2013.

“I think the grades are very difficult to understand,” Plymouth Community Schools Corp. Superintendent Dan Tyree said. “There’s a series of complex calculations that have to take place once we have data from the IDOE. The grades would be difficult to explain to the public.”

Tyree’s schools fared well this year, with Jefferson Elementary improving three letter grades, from a D in 2012 to an A this year.

“Plymouth had 5 A’s and 2 B’s,” Tyree said. “Our schools know how to get all A’s and B’s on these tests so I’m thankful that we did so. I know we had a couple of low grades last year and those schools brought up their grades. Our corporation grade was a B.”

Earning A’s for the district were: Plymouth High School (second consecutive year), Riverside Intermediate, up from 2012’s B; Jefferson Elementary, up from a D; Washington Discovery Academy and Webster Elementary. Menominee earned a B, an improvement over last year’s C and Lincoln Junior High School, which also improved one letter grade.

Sitting on the county line, Union North School Corporation also had good news to share. LaVille Junior/Senior High School showed continued improvement, earning a C, one letter grade up from the D earned in 2012 and 2011. After the school earned an F in 2010, Superintendent Mitch Mawhorter said the school has shown steady improvement.

“Our Elementary got an A grade for the fourth year in a row plus they raised their overall score from a 3.75 to 4.0,” Mawhorter said. “ At the Jr. Sr. High the combined score went from a 1.63 D last year to an overall grade of 2.48 C with the High School itself getting a 3.28 B. These scores are up considerably.”

To change the course of the school grades has not been an easy task. Mawhorter said it has been a team effort, and the reward is appreciated.

“Our teachers at both buildings have been meeting in the mornings from Monday to Thursday each week for professional development to help increase these scores,” Mawhorter explained. “We have very hard working, dedicated teachers and principals who use that time to create meaningful plans which help our students achieve.  We are ecstatic to see the improvement made and to know that the hard work our staff is doing is paying dividends for our students.”

A similar situation is in place at Bremen High School, which earned an A for the third year in a row. Prior to 2011, the school’s grade was a D.

“Those familiar with our school know that we have a very supportive community that places a high value on the education of their kids,” said high school principal Bruce Jennings. “Bremen has a great deal of pride, and the entire community has high expectations for our students and staff members. I like that. We all feel accountable to our students, parents, and community.”

Other scores for the district include:

• Argos: Elementary, A; High School, B. The elementary school raised their score from a D in the 2012 school year to an A this year.

• Bremen: Elementary, C, a decline from 2012’s A; high school, A.

• Culver: Elementary, C; Middle School, D; high school, B. This is the second year that the middle school earned a D. The high school improved, but the elementary school went from an A in 2012 to a C last school year.

• John Glenn: North Liberty Elementary, seventh consecutive A; Walkerton Elementary, B, staying consistent with the grade earned in 2012; Urey Middle School, C, an improvement over last year’s D; High School, third consecutive A grade.

• Triton: Elementary, A, two-letter grade improvement over the C earned in 2012; Triton Jr. /Sr. High, A, also a two-letter grade improvement.

“I’m very proud of Triton and the work the staff has done the last few years to improve each year,” superintendent Donna Burroughs said. “We are celebrating that each building received an A and the corporation as a whole was graded as an A. While I don’ like the A-F letter grading system that is being used by the state, I don’t have a problem with being accountable and I think Triton Schools would receive an A under any rating system at this time.”

That effort is accomplished through intervention which makes sure every student masters the essential skills as each week of the school year occurs.

“I also believe that the work the staff has done to develop and align curriculum, instruction, and assessment is also making a positive difference,” she said. “Most of all, the dedicated staff gives 100% plus each day for the kids. The students are the focus of all we do. We’re always looking at what else we could do to continue our positive growth.”

Controversy over the way the grades has erupted this year, including revelations earlier this year that former State Superintendent Tony Bennett had manipulated grades as favors for certain private schools. As a result, the grading system assigned to measure school district performance is being revamped, although not soon enough to affect the grades this year.

“I can only assume that the grades are accurate based on what we’ve been told,” Tyree said. “And, the state has had a lot of time to make sure they are accurate. Students took these tests in March and April of 2013 and we are finally getting them less than two weeks shy of 2014. It’s my understanding that we have to live with these grades one more year before a change is made,” Tyree continued. “That’s one year too many. “ 

According to the state, part of the delay was the result of computer malfunctions that delayed students from completing the state online testing this spring.

State Schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz  said she was pleased with the overall results. She has been a critic of the accountability method used by the state in calculating these grades.

“Though this current model for calculating school accountability grades will be changing, the data does show that some great learning is occurring in our schools, and I want to congratulate our students for their successes,” she said in a statement released to the press on Friday. “The 2013-14 school year will be the last year for our current model.”

Ritz said the new model will be “more transparent and fair [and be] fully operational for the 2014-15 school year.” 

For superintendents like Mawhorter, whatever model is used to track accountability, he is confident LaVille Schools can meet the challenge.

“We also feel that regardless of the system the state has put in place our staff is doing the fundamental things the right way to improve achievement,” he said.  “We have a fantastic group of hardworking people.”

For others who have demonstrated success, like Jennings at Bremen High School, success also comes from making the right personnel choices.

“It’s people, not programs that make the difference,” Jennings said. “We place a high priority on finding quality teachers who value collaboration; hold themselves, and each other, accountable for their students’ performance, and genuinely care about the future of their students.”

As examples of how this translates into action in Bremen’s classrooms, Jennings said, “We have an increased focus on college and career readiness, the consistent use of formative assessments (using data to drive instructional changes), and differentiated instruction that includes interventions for struggling students.”

But sometimes, success transcends the school campus.

“I feel blessed to live and work in a school community that has great students, staff members who care about the future of our kids, and parents and patrons who support our work,” he said.

 Statewide, Indiana schools saw improvement over the prior school year, with 67% of all schools receiving an A or B grade (up from 62% in 2012), and 10% more earning A’s than last year. In public schools, 65% were A’s or B’s in 2013, up from 58% in 2012.  The percentage of public schools with D’s or F’s decreased from 20% in 2012 to 16%in 2013.   Indicating a fairly stable model, there were only 72 schools whose grades varied by more than 2 grade levels (e.g. A-D, B-F, etc.), representing about 4% of all schools.

“Education in Indiana is improving every day and our kids, our teachers and our schools deserve to be commended,” Governor Mike Pence said. “Today’s release of the 2012-2013 accountability grades demonstrate that our schools have risen to the challenge of improving outcomes across the state of Indiana and our kids are better for it.

 “These strong results are a testament to our students and the teachers whose dedication is delivering greater levels of success in the classroom every year,” he said. “I also extend my thanks to all the members of the State Board of Education, including Superintendent Ritz, for working together to complete this important task and for all their efforts on behalf of Hoosier kids.”
Editor's Note: This story is posted on the web in its entirety because of a printing error that obstructed several paragraphs. The story was published in the Dec. 21 edition of the Pilot News.