Something Stinks: A Concerning Pattern in Education

If you get the majority of your information about the performance of our local schools from the newspaper, then you might think things are going pretty well. Here’s a handful of quotes the paper has printed about school corporation test results over the past few years,

Vigo County School Corp. third-graders outperformed the state and its largest urban districts on the 2021 IREAD-3 test.

Tibune Star, November 7th, 2021

Vigo County School Corp. students performed somewhat below the state average on overall ILEARN English/language arts and math scores, but performed well in comparison to other urban school districts.

Tribune Star, September 4th, 2019

Vigo County School Corp. 2018 ISTEP-Plus results are in, and district officials point to improvements in testing categories and better performance than other urban school districts.

Tribune Star, October 3rd, 2018

In looking at comparable districts that are part of the Indiana Urban Schools Association, “Our student are performing very competitively against other schools in the urban association,” Goeller said.

Tribune Star, September 6th, 2017

The Vigo County School Corp. students have outperformed peers in the state’s largest, comparable urban school districts in overall ISTEP+ results being released today, district officials say.

Tribune Star, January 6th, 2016

Notice any similarities? If you’re anything like me you’re asking yourself, “what is the urban association and why does the Tribune-Star use them as a comparison for our test results every time they report on state testing?” The Indiana Urban Schools Association is a network of urban school corporations whose stated mission is to “help urban schools succeed.” So, are they helping urban schools? Let’s look at the data. Posted below are the 3rd grade English Language test results. Highlighted in green are the three highest performing schools (all rural) and in yellow the three lowest performing schools (all urban).

2021 ILEARN Test Results

2016 ISTEP Test Results

According to state test results, they certainly aren’t helping the urban schools in Terre Haute. As you can see from the charts above state test results have been down across all schools but this decline has had a drastically worse effect on our urban schools. For the sake of brevity, I want to focus on two schools in particular, one urban and one rural, but it is important to point out that their results are representative of the entire community. Five years ago 88% of Dixie Bee Elementary students passed the English Language portion of the ISTEP while only 30% of students at Benjamin Franklin passed. Five years later both schools have dropped but Benjamin Franklin is down to 17% while Dixie Bee is down to 51%. It’s tragic to realize that the devastating effects of COVID on our schools still haven’t brought down our rural schools to the performance of our urban schools.

Third grade English Language results are crucial because a number of studies have shown a connection between graduation rates and third grading reading levels. One of these studies is quoted in an extensive article on the topic in The Atlantic from 2012 titled An Urban Myth That Should Be True, that quote reads, “A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient, wealthier peer,”

Why isn’t this front-page news? Why aren’t more people in our community outraged about it? Well, how can they know unless our local media outlets are willing to bring attention to the issue? Instead, they simply copy and paste information from press releases sent to them from the Vigo County School Corporation. What’s even more concerning is that in years past they used to acknowledge that the information they were printing came from VCSC officials, but in the November 7th, 2021 Tribune-Star article on test results they do not cite a VCSC official or press release despite the fact that large portions of their article came directly from a press release sent by Karen Goeller to the Tribune-Star on November 5th.

Redlining Map vs Benjamin Franklin School Boundary Map

The reason why I chose to focus on Benjamin Franklin is because of a deeply troubling fact concerning the odd shape of it’s school boundary map. The current boundaries for the school map match almost exactly the old redlining maps used by banks in our community to limit investment in poor and minority communities. I’ve written previously about the effects of these maps on our community and that article can be found here Redlining Upclose: A Local Case of Systemic Racism. With all of this information taken into account, it appears that the Indiana Urban Schools Association has been more effective at covering up the decline in our urban schools rather than helping improve them.

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