Can Students Pass the State Exams?

Updated July 2015! Results based on 2013-2014 school year data.

Teachers had a lot to say about their school’s problems, but as we follow The Process from step one (ask people who do the job) to steps two and three (speak with data and identify a root cause), we have to start looking at why. Are students just not smart enough to pass the exams?

We asked our teachers: “Do students have the intellectual capability to pass the ISTEP (standardized state test) exams?”

All of our teachers answered with an emphatic YES. 

“In our judgment, almost all of our students have the native intellectual capacity to pass the ISTEP exam or do well on any assessment test. But there are barriers that get in the way of their ability to grow and apply their skills effectively.”

Almost all means that this student population is no different from any other. There is a normal curve of intellectual skill, with some students falling on the lower tail.

If the teachers thought students were simply incapable of passing their exams, this project never would have come into existence. But that is not the case and there is much to explore that can offer hope and provide encouragement for any school graded D or F.

Are School Grades Tied to Students’ Socioeconomic Standing?

To answer this question, we needed to look at school letter grades and the average free-and reduced-meal percentage for each school. A database of this information did not exist for the state of Indiana, so the author created one by combining tables, manually correlating 2200 entries into a new database.

The table below clearly shows a relationship between a school’s letter grade and their free- and reduced-meal percentage. No fancy regression analysis necessary: as school grades go down, the meal percentages go up.

Table 7. School Grades Decline as Meal Percentage Increases 2013-2014

School GradeAvg. Free and Reduced Meal Percent
A44.4%
B51.6%
C58.4%
D71.8%
F82.5%

But how strong is this relationship? Is it strong enough to know what a school’s grade would be based on its free- and reduced-meal percentage alone? Can we assume that a school with a meal percentage of 71.8% will be a graded D school? If this is the case, then poverty and poor standardized test performance are inextricably linked and our teachers would have to be wrong about their students’ intellectual capabilities. What a disappointing result that would be for our schools and our students.

But if we look a bit closer and peel back another layer of the onion, we get the table shown below, that shows the range of meal percentages for each school’s letter grade. The range shows the smallest and largest values: graded A schools had meal percentages ranging from 1.1% to 98.3%. Now this is exciting! Graded A schools aren’t just located in high-income neighborhoods… students of all socioeconomic levels attend graded A schools.

Table 8. School Grades Range Up and Down the Meal Percent 2013-2014

This table shows the range of free and reduced meal percentages for any given school grade
School GradeLower Limit
Meal Percent
Upper Limit
Meal Percent
A1.1%98.3%
B7.1%95.5%
C16.4%94.2%
D33.2%100%
F53.5%97.6%

GOOD NEWS: There are many A schools with meal percentages in the 90+ range!

We’re focusing on schools with meal percentages between 70 and 100%, which is considered a high-poverty range. The table below shows that more high-poverty schools with high meal percentages are graded A, B, or C (273 schools) than D or F (109 schools). Therefore, meal percentages (as a representation of student socioeconomic standing) has a relatively small impact on a school’s grade. These high-poverty schools are improving as well as higher graded schools. A school with a meal percentage between 70 and 100% has only a 29% probability of being a failing school (graded D or F), but last year this number was 45%.

This is a very important conclusion: the teachers we interviewed thought that the school grading scheme needed to take the socioeconomic standing of their students into consideration, but we’ve shown socioeconomic status doesn’t play a big role in school grading. It is clear that more and more schools are learning to teach and support students in high-poverty areas. 

Table 9. Poor Children Can and Do Succeed! Traditional Public Schools 2013-2014

This table shows that there are more A,B, and C schools than D and F schools in the upper meal percentages:
Meal % IntervalNo. Schools With
Grades A,B or C
No. Schools With
Grades D and F
Percent A,B,C
Totals27310971%
70.0 to 79.91343878%
80 to 89.9984967%
90+412265%

These results strongly DO support our teachers’ belief that their students can be academically successful. So if many students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds are successfully passing the ISTEP exam, why did only 51% of our school’s students pass? Our teachers have an idea…

Indiana Hit Parade of Schools

This table lists Indiana’s “Hit Parade” of 114 outstanding schools. The schools on this list are all graded A traditional public schools with free- and reduced-meal percentages over 70%. To receive an ‘A’ grade is an honor for any school, but to do so in a high-poverty school is truly exceptional.

Table 10. 'A' Schools 70-100% Free and Reduced Meal Percentages 2013-2014

 1Peru Community SchoolsElmwood Primary Learning CenterMiamiA70
2Anderson Preparatory AcademyAnderson Preparatory AcademyMadisonA70.1
3Fort Wayne Community SchoolsWaynedale Elementary SchoolAllenA70.3
4Perry Township SchoolsSouthport 6th Grade AcademyMarionA70.3
5Vigo County School CorpSugar Grove Elementary SchoolVigoA70.5
6Fayette County School CorpEastview Elementary SchoolFayetteA71
7Fort Wayne Community SchoolsNorthwood Middle SchoolAllenA71
8Fort Wayne Community SchoolsMaplewood Elementary SchoolAllenA71.2
9Crawford Co Com School CorpPatoka Elementary SchoolCrawfordA71.3
10Greater Clark County SchoolsMaple Elementary SchoolClarkA71.3
11Goshen Community SchoolsWaterford Elementary SchoolElkhartA71.6
12Bartholomew Con School CorpLillian Schmitt Elem SchoolBartholomewA71.7
13Crawford Co Com School CorpMarengo Elementary SchoolCrawfordA71.9
14North White School CorpNorth White Primary SchoolWhiteA71.9
15Vincennes Community Sch CorpFrancis Vigo Elementary SchKnoxA71.9
16Lafayette School CorporationGlen Acres Elementary SchoolTippecanoeA72
17DeKalb Co Ctl United Sch DistWaterloo Elementary SchoolDekalbA72.2
18Perry Township SchoolsWilliam Henry Burkhart ElemMarionA72.4
19Fort Wayne Community SchoolsJohn S Irwin Elementary SchAllenA72.5
20Clay Community SchoolsEast Side Elementary SchoolClayA72.6
21South Bend Community Sch CorpDarden Primary CenterSt JosephA72.7
22School City of HammondKenwood Elementary SchoolLakeA72.8
23M S D Lawrence TownshipIndian Creek Elem SchMarionA73.1
24Scott County School District 1Austin Middle SchoolScottA73.1
25Seymour Community SchoolsMargaret R Brown Elem SchoolJacksonA73.1
26Elkhart Community SchoolsOsolo Elementary SchoolElkhartA73.2
27Fort Wayne Community SchoolsMabel K Holland Elem SchAllenA73.2
28School City of MishawakaLiberty Elementary SchoolSt JosephA73.3
29Monroe County Com Sch CorpTempleton Elementary SchoolMonroeA73.5
30Beech Grove City SchoolsSouth Grove Intermediate SchoolMarionA73.7
31Randolph Eastern School CorpNorth Side Elementary SchoolRandolphA73.7
32Vincennes Community Sch CorpJames Whitcomb Riley Elem SchKnoxA73.7
33Fort Wayne Community SchoolsIndian Village Elementary SchAllenA73.9
34Indianapolis Public SchoolsCold Spring SchoolMarionA74.1
35Michigan City Area SchoolsSpringfield Elementary SchoolLaPorteA74.4
36Vigo County School CorpTerre Town Elementary SchoolVigoA75
37Greenwood Community Sch CorpGreenwood Northeast Elem SchJohnsonA75.1
38Muncie Community SchoolsNorth View Elementary SchoolDelawareA75.2
39New Albany-Floyd Co Con SchHazelwood Middle SchoolFloydA75.2
40East Noble School CorpNorth Side Elementary SchoolNobleA75.6
41LaPorte Community School CorpHailmann Elementary SchoolLaPorteA75.7
42Fort Wayne Community SchoolsBrentwood Elementary SchoolAllenA75.9
43Evansville Vanderburgh Sch CorpTekoppel Elementary SchoolVanderburghA76.3
44Marion Community SchoolsRiverview Elementary SchoolGrantA76.4
45Indianapolis Public SchoolsCrispus Attucks Medical Magnet HSMarionA76.9
46Jay School CorpJudge Haynes Elementary SchJayA76.9
47Greater Clark County SchoolsNorthaven Elementary SchoolClarkA77.1
48Fort Wayne Community SchoolsFranke Park Elementary SchoolAllenA77.2
49M S D Warren TownshipCreston Intermediate AcademyMarionA77.2
50M S D Warren TownshipHawthorne Elementary SchoolMarionA77.3
51Indianapolis Public SchoolsJonathan Jennings School 109MarionA77.6
52Fort Wayne Community SchoolsNorthcrest Elementary SchoolAllenA77.9
53South Bend Community Sch CorpJefferson Intermediate CenterSt JosephA78
54Fort Wayne Community SchoolsHarrison Hill Elementary SchAllenA78.4
55Lake Station Community SchoolsCarl J Polk Elementary SchoolLakeA79.1
56Lake Station Community SchoolsVirgil I Bailey Elementary SchoolLakeA79.4
57Michigan City Area SchoolsKnapp Elementary SchoolLaPorteA79.4
58Perry Township SchoolsHomecroft Elementary SchoolMarionA79.4
59School Town of SpeedwayJames A Allison Elem School 3MarionA80
60M S D Lawrence TownshipSunnyside Elementary SchMarionA80.1
61M S D Pike TownshipDeer Run ElementaryMarionA80.1
62M S D Pike TownshipCentral Elementary SchoolMarionA80.3
63River Forest Community Sch CorpJohn I Meister Elementary SchoolLakeA80.6
64Indianapolis Public SchoolsErnie Pyle School 90MarionA80.8
65Indianapolis Public SchoolsFrancis W Parker School 56MarionA81
66Anderson Community School CorpEdgewood Elementary SchoolMadisonA81.7
67Perry Township SchoolsSouthport Elementary SchoolMarionA81.8
68Lafayette School CorporationVinton Elementary SchoolTippecanoeA82.2
69Clay Community SchoolsForest Park Elementary SchoolClayA83
70Lafayette School CorporationMiami Elementary SchoolTippecanoeA83
71Vigo County School CorpBlanche E Fuqua Elem SchVigoA83
72Elkhart Community SchoolsMonger Elementary SchoolElkhartA83.5
73M S D Wayne TownshipMcClelland Elementary SchoolMarionA84.2
74Michigan City Area SchoolsLake Hills Elementary SchoolLaPorteA84.3
75River Forest Community Sch CorpRiver Forest IntermediateLakeA84.5
76M S D Wayne TownshipChapel Glen Elementary SchoolMarionA84.6
77M S D Wayne TownshipChapelwood Elementary SchoolMarionA84.9
78Richmond Community SchoolsFairview Elementary SchoolWayneA85.1
79Lafayette School CorporationMurdock Elementary SchoolTippecanoeA85.7
80Anderson Community School CorpValley Grove Elementary SchMadisonA86.2
81M S D Washington TownshipGreenbriar Elementary SchoolMarionA86.3
82New Albany-Floyd Co Con SchFairmont Elementary SchoolFloydA86.4
83Vigo County School CorpFarrington Grove Elem SchVigoA86.4
84Vigo County School CorpWest Vigo Elementary SchoolVigoA86.5
85River Forest Community Sch CorpHenry S Evans Elementary SchLakeA87.2
86Elkhart Community SchoolsHawthorne Elementary SchoolElkhartA87.5
87Anderson Community School CorpTenth Street Elementary SchMadisonA88
88Perry Township SchoolsClinton Young Elem SchMarionA88.1
89Fort Wayne Community SchoolsWashington Elem SchoolAllenA88.2
90M S D Wayne TownshipMaplewood Elementary SchoolMarionA88.8
91Fort Wayne Community SchoolsFairfield Elementary SchoolAllenA89.3
92Indianapolis Public SchoolsCarl Wilde School 79MarionA89.6
93Indianapolis Public SchoolsArlington Woods Elementary SchoolMarionA89.7
94Fort Wayne Community SchoolsSouth Wayne Elementary SchoolAllenA90.8
95School City of HammondAbraham Lincoln Elem SchLakeA90.9
96Anderson Community School CorpErskine Elementary SchoolMadisonA91
97Lake Ridge SchoolsLongfellow Elementary SchoolLakeA91.1
98Fort Wayne Community SchoolsLevan R Scott AcademyAllenA91.5
99M S D Wayne TownshipGarden City Elementary SchoolMarionA92
100M S D Wayne TownshipRhoades Elementary SchoolMarionA92.2
101Gary Community School CorpFrankie W McCullough Acad for GirlLakeA92.3
102Evansville Vanderburgh Sch CorpEvans SchoolVanderburghA92.9
103Indianapolis Public SchoolsBrookside School 54MarionA93.1
104Vigo County School CorpBenjamin Franklin Elem SchoolVigoA93.3
105Muncie Community SchoolsLongfellow Elementary SchoolDelawareA93.5
106Gary Community School CorpDaniel Hale Williams Elem SchLakeA93.7
107School City of East ChicagoGeorge Washington Elem SchoolLakeA94.2
108School City of East ChicagoWilliam McKinley Elementary SchLakeA94.2
109M S D Wayne TownshipStout Field Elementary SchoolMarionA94.4
110Anderson Community School CorpAnderson Elementary SchoolMadisonA96.4
111School City of HammondLafayette Elementary SchoolLakeA96.8
112School City of East ChicagoAbraham Lincoln Elementary SchLakeA97.7
113Evansville Vanderburgh Sch CorpDelaware Elementary SchoolVanderburghA97.9
114School City of East ChicagoCarrie Gosch Elementary SchoolLakeA98.3