Eight Putnam County schools scored in the second lowest category in Indiana school accountability rates under Public Law 221 (P.L. 221) according to a report issued by Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Suellen Reed. Only one school, North Putnam High School reached the top "exemplary" category.
The 2007 report is five-tiered with the top rating being exemplary and the bottom tier being probation. The classifications are based on the same test scores used to determine whether a school makes yearly progress as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law. It looks mainly at the percentage of passing students, but the state rankings give credit to both high-performing schools making slow progress and low-performing schools that greatly improved.
P.L. 221 placements are based on the percentage of all students who pass the English and math ISTEP+ tests (averaged across subjects and grade levels) as well as improvement in passing percentage of students over time.
The second tier to the bottom is the "watch" category that has South Putnam High School, Greencastle High School, Greencastle Middle School, North Putnam Middle School, Fillmore, Reelsville and Bainbridge and Cloverdale Elementary Schools.
North Putnam High School rose from the watch category last year to exemplary gaining 5.9 percent.
Roachdale Elementary remained at "Commendable while Cloverdale High School and Middle Schools as well as Ridpath remained at Academic Progress.
Both Fillmore and Reelsville Elementary schools went from an exemplary to watch status. Reelsville had a percentage drop of 3.7 in the report. Greencastle High School, which was on the watch report last year, dropped an additional three points.
South Putnam Community School Superintendent Bruce Bernhardt sees the scores as being cyclical as a different group of student scores are used each year. He also understands that statistics make a difference.
"When you have smaller populations of students in a classroom than one or two students scores can make a big difference," he stated.
"From a statistical viewpoint, if you compare the third grade at Fillmore Elementary which has about 20 third-graders to a school like Tzouanakis which has over 120 students, the numbers will vary because of the total number of students," Bernhardt said.
When asked if the practice of mainstreaming special education students has an impact on test scores, Bernhardt replied that it is an area where schools struggle to meet the required scores.
"There is more going on in the classroom with a wide range of students, that can make it more difficult," he remarked. "Anything that can disrupt or distract students in a classroom has an effect."
"Mainstreaming is cyclical. And it is a federal mandated. For about 20 years now, people much higher up than I am, made the decision that it is better for special education kids to be in the classroom. Prior to that kids were pulled out and taught separately, tomorrow it could change again," said Berhnardt.
He added that teachers and administrators all over the state are looking at the areas where students scored high and low.
"We always know we can do better and we are not ever happy with the scores but we feel like we are on the right path," concluded Bernhardt.
Tzouanakis Intermediate School dropped from Exemplary to academic progress, as did Deer Meadow Primary School. Ridpath remained the same at academic progress, which is the second highest ranking.
Greencastle Community School Corporation Superintendent Bob Green agreed with Bernhardt's assessment of scores being taken from a very small percentage of the student population.
"The report looks at a subgroup which is a very small part of the school as a whole. If that group does not show enough progress than the whole school is affected," he told the BannerGraphic.
Green added that he was not in total agreement with the No Child Left Behind Federal mandate.
"It's unfair to the total school population. Each year you get a new group with kids that are not all the same. There are many differences and kids learn in so many different ways. But the mandate expects each group to be consistent and that's just not always so. Students learn in different ways. I don't mind being measured but let's be realistic when measuring," stated Green.
He went on to report that three years ago Ridpath Elementary received a watch rating. The school group that was supposedly used for the rating test was never tested.
"We questioned the state but didn't receive any change," added Green.
When asked how Inclusion (the federal mandate to mainstream special education students) affects the school ratings, Green stated, "Inclusion across the board is mandated but it does create some tension and some problems. Overall, it doesn't hurt us. But it is hard to deliver services and we put a lot of effort into training staff to work with the No Child Left Behind mandate."
According to Reed's report, Indiana saw improvements in category placements of 21 percent of schools moving into the higher categories, 55 percent remaining the same and 23 percent dropping to a lower category.
By school type, more high schools (34 percent) ranked in the top three categories compared to last year (26 percent). Slightly more middle schools (34 percent) ranked in the top three categories compared to last year (33 percent). A total of 70 percent of elementary schools placed in the top three categories, a slight decline (2 percent) compared to last year.
"Indiana schools are making important gains in some areas, but progress still remains to be seen in others," said Reed. "Focusing our efforts where the need is greatest is essential, and that requires distinguishing between those schools that are just missing the mark versus those that are struggling across the board."
County superintendents who spoke to the BannerGraphic agree that progress is still needed and that local schools are working hard on improving all their scores.
"To put everyone into one box as far as delivery of instruction, may not be the best. Basically, we measure our success by how much an individual student improves each year. We don't put on an arbitrary goal. But still we are scored by PL 221 and No Child Left Behind," said Green.
"We have good schools and we have good teachers and we are working very hard with all students to help them be the best they can be," concluded Green.