Shannon Williams

After a public records request from Chalkbeat Indiana, the Indiana Department of Education recently released growth scores for the 2019 iLearn state assessment. 

This data is from the first year of a more rigorous state assessment that resulted in large drops in proficiency rates. It was the right move for the Indiana General Assembly to pass hold harmless legislation so that schools and educators were not unfairly penalized by this shift. However, the growth data from the assessment, which shows how well a school is moving individual students toward proficiency, is extremely valuable information that allows our community to measure the extent to which schools are helping our students make academic progress.

In Indianapolis, Innovation Network Schools and independent charter schools have the freedom and flexibility to make decisions at the school level. These schools serve a greater share of low-income students and students of color than district-run schools, with over 80% of students identifying as Black or Latino. The recently released growth data reveals students attending innovation and charter schools are making significantly more academic growth than their peers in direct-run district schools and are on par with state averages. 

Innovation and charter schools earned an average of 94.1 growth points compared to 79.8 for direct-run IPS schools and 95.7 for the state as a whole. At the elementary and middle school levels, innovation and charter schools earned 93.1 growth points compared to 80.0 for direct-run IPS schools and 95.0 for the state as a whole. At the high school level, innovation and charter schools earned an average of 97.7 growth points compared to 77.7 for direct-run IPS schools and 98.9 for the state.

While Innovation Network Schools and charter schools comprise less than half of the public schools within the IPS boundaries that received growth scores, they make up the vast majority of the schools that lead students to make the greatest academic growth. Within the IPS boundaries, eight of the 10 public elementary and middle schools that demonstrate the greatest growth are innovation and charter schools. The top six public high schools that demonstrate the greatest growth within the IPS boundaries are innovation and charter schools. In fact, four of the five public high schools that are producing the highest growth levels in all of Marion County are innovation and charter schools.

Assessing student learning and analyzing academic data is critical to understanding how well schools are serving students, especially students of color and those from low-income households. Just like public health officials are right to advocate for widely available COVID-19 testing and publicly accessible disaggregated data, it is imperative that we have accurate assessments of student learning so we understand how well our most marginalized students are doing academically. This type of data shines a light on racial and economic disparities and can give our community insight into what is or isn’t working as we seek to ensure our children make sufficient academic progress. 

Indianapolis has a long way to go to provide every student with access to a truly outstanding school. We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that this strong academic growth leads to lasting proficiency gains that help prepare our students for post-secondary success and a life of their choosing. For Black students in Indianapolis, Innovation Network Schools and independent charter schools are proving that all children can learn if given the right opportunities. We should celebrate this progress and advocate for more of our children to have access to life-changing schools. 

Shannon Williams is senior vice president of Community Engagement at The Mind Trust.

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