By Dani Palmer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
The Madison County Community Alliance to Promote Education (CAPE) has awarded the county an “Educational Gold Star” for improvements in third grade language arts ISTEP scores over the last 12 years.
In 2001, only 45 percent of public school third graders in Madison County’s five school districts passed the language arts portion of the ISTEP. In 2012, 86 percent did.
“I think teachers have done an excellent job of focusing on student needs rather than just throwing out instruction,” CAPE Director Mary Lee Ewald said.
She said the dramatic improvement has been a collaborative effort among teachers, building administrators, districts, students, parents, businesses, community organizations and volunteers.
While educators stress the importance of early childhood education, Indiana has placed emphasis on third grade with both the Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination (IREAD) exam and the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress (ISTEP) that runs grades three through eight.
If students aren’t reading at their current grade level by grade three, Ewald said, studies show 74 percent never will.
While there’s room for improvement, she said the Educational Gold Star was introduced to celebrate and recognize the countywide achievement.
“Sometimes we don’t celebrate enough and we need to celebrate success,” she said.
When he began in Alexandria about 11 years ago, Intermediate Principal Chris Schnepp said they “started in the dumpster” with third grade test scores in the high 60 percentile range.
In 2012, the Intermediate School had a third grade language arts ISTEP pass rate of 94 percent.
“We got tired of being beat up a bit,” Schnepp said. “The last five years we’ve had a ‘no excuses’ approach.”
He said Alexandria has students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds, but that they and teachers work hard. The eight-step process also allows educators to be more focused on instruction, he said, so they can see who’s struggling and better assist them.
Under the eight-step process, students are taught in three-week cycles and given mini-assessments at the end of each to document strengths and weaknesses. Alexandria has used the eight-step process for four years now, Scnepp said, and both Anderson Community Schools and Elwood Community Schools use the program.
ACS Superintendent Felix Chow said the news is good for the county and for Anderson, but that there’s also the reality that ACS has lower test scores than some suburban and rural districts. ACS had a third grade language arts ISTEP pass rate of 79 percent in 2012.
A part of that, Chow said, is the culture of an urban school district where there is often less parental involvement and student effort.
But, he added, there is still work left to be done on the school district’s side, as well.
“Yes, we need to improve instruction, but we also need student motivation,” Chow said.
One way ACS plans to improve, he said, is by reaching students sooner. ACS will focus on younger pupils with the opening of the Southview Center, a centralized preschool location, in the fall.
The earlier kids start, the better, Ewald said.
Like Dani Palmer on Facebook and follow her @DaniPalmer_THB on Twitter, or call 640-4847.