SB schools not surprised by federal accountability rating

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) --- The recently released federal school accountability ratings confirm what South Bend Community Schools Corporation administrators already know.

"I think it provides a mostly objective and sort of valuable snapshot into where these schools were performing in the 2018-2019 school year," stated Rafi Nolan-Abrahamian, the executive director of strategic initiatives for SBCSC.

The federal rating for a school is based on data states are required to report to the government under the Every Students Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Compared to the grades assigned to schools by the Indiana Department of Education, or IDOE, the federal rating includes a broader range of performance indicators, such as chronic absenteeism, closing achievement gaps and English language-learners, or ELL.

Sixty-nine percent of South Bend schools did not meet expectations, per the federal accountability rating.

"I've been superintendent for six months," Dr. Todd Cummings said. "We knew, going in, that our literacy rates were low. We knew that we had academic work that we had to do. So, this comes as no surprise."

Since last summer, Cummings said the district has implemented a literacy program in the schools that aims to help students read at grade level and prepare them for the standardized tests.

But that's not enough, he said.

"We want to hear from front line folks -- counselors and principals and students who have had a really tough time graduating. Let's see what the root cause is. And while we have these transformational efforts underway already, what can we do to bring more granularity to help students individually?" he said.

Cummings said he recognizes improving student literacy doesn't happen overnight.

"You can't flip one switch and change graduation rates. There are a lot of things that go into that. And we want to make sure we have the right root causes identified," he said.

Dr. Susan Devetski, the district's chief academic officer, released the following statement Monday:

"We are proud of our students and our graduates. South Bend Schools represent a widely diverse range of families and students, offering CTE and job training as well as top tier academics. Our graduates work in the community in healthcare, education, culinary arts, and more....they also attend the most selective colleges and universities in the country. Graduation rates are important and one measure of a school's success. South Bend schools' focus will be in working with students and families to ensure improvement in these rates. We also plan to learn from the success of our high school that exceeded the state average at over 90 % to determine if those strategies can be applied more broadly."

The state letter grades for Indiana schools won't be released for the time being, as the IDOE has adopted a resolution embargoing the grades until legislators take action in the 2020 legislative session.