Down, Down, Down: HSE Schools and the ISTEP+ Tests

As we pump more dollars into our schools, we expect that the impact will be positive on our kids. With that in mind, along with the next round of ISTEP tests getting ready to happen, I took a quick look at the ISTEP scores over the last few years to see how the  increased investments in Hamilton Southeastern Schools are paying off.

For the 2016-17 school year, Hamilton Southeaster Schools had an overall passing grade on the ISTEP of 72.5%. This is the result of 7,169 students passing. That left 2,726 kids that did not pass, or 27.5%. Compared to the scores for the entire state, 51.4%, the pass percentage was great.

Stepping back to the 2015-16 school year, you might expect that the overall passing scores were lower; however, you’d be wrong. The passing score for that year was slightly less at 72.5% or 7,237 students. There were 2,686 students that did not pass.

Although the trend was towards poorer performance, the numbers were very close. As such, you’d hope that we saw an increase from the previous year, 2014-15. Your hopes, however, would again be dashed. In 2014-15, HSE had 7,135 students pass, which was 73.6%, a full percentage point higher. That left 2,556 students that did not pass ISTEP.

When you put the three years together, the trend is not the one you want to see:


The downward trend is for all the HSE schools combined and for all grades. You can dig into the data on the Department of Education site and see how each of the individual schools performed. For example, Geist Elementary had a passing score of 87.8% in 2014-15, which helped raise the overall HSE score. Unfortunately, they dropped to 85.4% in 2015-6 and then dropped further to 77.5% in 2016-17.

Riverside Junior High was at 75% in 2014-15. They went to 74.1% in 2015-16 and then dropped further to 69.3% in 2016-17. Riverside Intermediate School, on the other hand, bucked the trend. They were at a passing rate of 71.8% in 2014-15. They increased to 74.2% in 2015-16, and then further increased to 75.4% in 2016-17.

While I’ve painted a bit of doom and gloom on the downward trend, it is worth noting that the scores across the state dropped as well. They went from 53.5% in 2014-15 to 51.6% in 2015-16. In 2016-17 they dropped further to 51.4%. As such, the overall state drop is slightly greater than HSE.

Indiana ISTEP Trend

In 2014-15, the ISTEP test was updated. The result was that you can’t compare earlier scores. A new test is also going to replace the ISTEP in the near future. This will also make year-over-year comparisons going forward harder as well. I should disclose that I’m not a fan of the ISTEP test or how it’s the state is using the scores. That, however, is a topic for another post.

# # #

Up, Up, and Away…. School Tax Increases Continue After Major Referendum

In 2016 a referendum was passed for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, so it was not surprise to see an increase in property taxes for 2017. In fact, taxes increased by 11.23% from 2016 to 2017 as a result of the referendum. What might surprise you is that tax increases didn’t stop in 2017 with the big referendum. In 2018, the tax rate has increased again by almost another percentage point to a total rate of 1.274.

What should raise a few eyebrows on this continued upward trend for taxes is the fact that the Indiana state government also made changes to school fund allocations recently. The state changes adjusted school allocations so that they would be more balanced. In the case of HSE Schools, this meant that the per student funding increased. The result was more state dollars were coming to our schools.

The net is that the HSE School coffers in 2017 benefited by more tax dollars at both the state and local levels. As the school board continues to increase taxes through referendums, you should be watching and asking why that is needed as well as watching how the millions of additional dollars are being spent. After all, in 2016 the HSE community was told that 100s of staff members could be laid off if a referendum wasn’t passed. In 2017, after passing the referendum, an unplanned multi-million dollar renovation to the administration building was approved and moved to the front of the capital improvements list. That’s a big change in a very short time.

Spending in Our Schools: Hamilton Southeastern

At the October 26th HSE School board meeting, yet another bond was approved. As an outsider looking into the process of decisions being made by both our schools and our local city officials, it seems scary and concerning the amount of money that is continually approved that comes from the taxpayers – that comes from us. In seeing it from the outside, it looks like we, the community, are being nickeled and dimed for a lot of money. It is easy to overlook this because the money appears to be going to our schools; however, that would be a bit fiscally irresponsible.

Within HSE this year alone, there was a referendum passed, a ten million dollar bond, and most recently a $5.5 million bond as well. This is on top of the property taxes we are already paying that go to the city and then partially come back to our schools as well. For those living in Fishers, there is the additional move to bump up the tax rate as well as the new $25 wheel tax.

While each of these individually don’t seem like much, when a person starts watching and listening, it can become concerning that large amounts of money are being shifted around without a lot of oversight by the community.

The question becomes – is this an issue?

In many cases, the answers I’ve gotten when asking questions around school and city financials have made sense. For example, with what was described as an annual $10 million dollar bond the school does, there  is no increase in taxes to the community because at the same time the new bond is starting, an old bond is ending. The net result is that the pull from the community wallets remains the same. With the $5.5 million dollars that was approved at the October 26th meeting (2016), the money will be covered by refinancing existing debt at a lower interest rate. As such, your money that would have been used to pay interest on school debt will be redirected to pay this $5.5 million resulting again in no increase in taxes to the community, but rather just shifting where the money they were already taking will go.

When asked why the school system couldn’t simply reduce the burden to the community instead of keeping the savings, the answer was that no new increase was happening. While this didn’t really answer the question of reducing the tax burden, an additional comment was made that by retaining the money, the school system is able to fund tasks earlier. Spending that was planned to would occur in 2017 could now be done in 2016. This would open up more budget dollars in 2017.

# # #

Thank You

I want to take a minute to say thank you to not only the 5,627 individuals that took the time to vote for me for the HSE school board position, but to all the people who took time to vote for anyone on the school board. The impact that the board will have on our taxes, our community, and even our families can be larger than the impact of positions at the state and national level. As such, it is good to see that over 35,000 people took time to vote for candidates.

I’ve been asked by a couple of people if I’ll continue to be involved. For those that know me, they’d see that as a silly question. I was involved in our schools and in attending board meeting prior to any consideration of running for the board. This is my town, these are my schools, many of you are my friends and neighbors, so of course I’ll continue to do what I do – I’ll continue to be involved in both the schools and the community.

I want to congratulate all of the school board candidates that ran as well as those that won. Each candidate deserves a huge congratulations for stepping up and drawing more attention to our schools and our kids. I personally want to thank each for taking their time as well as time from their families to run and to draw attention to important issues. I believe our schools will be better going forward as a result of their actions. So, thank you.

Our schools are great.

The election is over, but there are still questions around fiscal responsibility, we still have to find ways to retain our good teachers, we still need to continue to recognize each student individually to help them succeed, we still need to support the mental health programs, we still have to make sure our schools stay safe and usable for the long term, and we still have to remember it is all about the kids. While the board can make policies and procedures, it will take the community to make it all happen.

I look forward to being a part of the HSE community that makes it all happen.

Tech in HSE Schools: The Feedback Cycle

Technology is tough. Securing technology is even tougher, but when the technology is used by kids, it is important for technology to not only work, but to work in a way that eliminates unnecessary risks.

One of the biggest concerns about is use of technology in schools is around the potential for kids to be exposed to bad things. The other concern that is raised centers on putting expensive technology into the hands of little kids. One of the first questions I asked when the concept of having elementary kids in our schools use computers (iPads), was related to the idea of having 5 and 6 year olds responsible for getting a device to and from school.

Four years later, when the program was ready to roll out to the elementary schools, a new set of parents stepped up and asked the same questions. Fortunately, the school administration listened and made changes that didn’t require the younger kids to bring the devices back and forth to school.

Even looking beyond the youngest kids, technology is tough. It has problems. Most people are not tech-savvy experts that can address electronic issues. Additionally, if you give a kid something, then generally speaking, you can expect at some point it will be broken. That goes for computers such as iPads as well.

So when a school puts 21,000+ devices in place, it is safe to expect there will be issues. The question becomes, how can the issues be reduced or alleviated?

Communication and Open Standards

First is to open up communication so that you get the community helping to identify issues. In our community we have numerous people representing every facet of technology. Those people have insights that can help alleviate problems before they happen as well as insights that can help resolve issues in hours instead of months. The school system has to be ready to asking for help from the community early and often. This would prevent things such as the new projection system in the high school from sitting for well over a year without being used because the technology changed before it was even used. In fact, this is a case where the community had suggested open standards be used, but the decision was made to go with a proprietary solution. (Can we say, “We told you so”?)

As a result of community push-back, one of the efforts put forth by the school administration more recently was to set up Technology Committees to help provide feedback. These committees have started meeting and will continue to meet over the coming months. The initial meetings were less about technology and more focused on teaching methods, so the jury is still out on whether these will truly help open two way communication that will lead to technology improvements. I’m a member of one of these committees, so I’ll be sharing related thoughts in  future posts.

Understanding the Individual Issues

Additionally, it is critical that with that awareness, that there is an understanding of the individual issues happening to each student. If feedback isn’t collected, then how can you know what is truly happening? While many issues are seen within the schools, because technology is being brought home, many issues are not seen. As such, it is critical for the school system to do everything they can to make sure they are aware of what is happening beyond their own walls.

There is no automated means that I’m currently aware of within the school system to report issues that people have with their student computers or the schools technology. There is, however, an independent group that has created a means for collecting feedback. You can access the form for reporting a problem at the following link:

HSE Parents Voice iPad Issue Reporting Tool

This tool has not been available for very long, but it has already started collecting data. I recently talked with the group running the collection app about the data, and am glad to see that they’ve shared the initial results. You can review their initial findings at the following link:

Parents Voice iPad Findings Initial Report

This is just their early results. Because this has been in use at the beginning of the school year, it would be expected that the issues will be higher. The initial findings are indicating that issues and concerns are spread across a variety of areas, so it will be interesting to see what they learn over time. As kids and parents use the devices more, will issues go down or will they increase? Only time will tell.

In Summary

Technology is a tool to be used to help with teaching. Just like a pencil can have its lead broken, technology also breaks. Just like it is better to buy a standard pencil so you know you’ll be able to find a sharper that works, it is also good to use technology that follows standards. The way you reduce the issues is by understanding what issues have happened in the past. By collecting data and feedback, hopefully our schools will evolve the technology used to what is most practical and appropriate for the learning objectives. Until then, groups like HSE Parents Voice and many of the HSE parents (including myself) will keep providing the feedback to try to make it better.

Teacher Retention at HSE Schools

WRTV 6 did a story on teacher retention in Indiana schools today. They indicated that 18% of the teachers and administrators left their school in a single year. That puts the retention on average at 82%. With over 12,426 educators, that is a large turnover.

You might think that HSE Schools are immune to this turnover; however, you’d be wrong. We have teachers leaving regularly as well, which is why I’ve raised it as an issue while running for a school board position. While some turn over is expected as a result of retiring or other reasons, there are also those teachers that state they are leaving for reasons such as being tired of “teaching to tests” or the teacher who feels they are not being heard. Some also leave to make more money in other districts.

It was reported that 8.5% of teachers in Indiana left for reasons other than retirement. Before saying 8.5% doesn’t seem bad, that’s over 1,000 educators in Indiana.

You can find the reasons that WRTV 6 found by reading their article at:

There are a few things that are concerning in the story. This includes the comment that Indiana schools are not tracking why educators are leaving. This is a topic I’m sure will be addressed by the administration as it would be mind boggling to think this isn’t being tracked.

Glenda Ritz’s comment about taking the issue to the General Assembly seems extremely odd.  Why would you not simply tell the school administrators to start tracking why teachers are leaving so you can work to retain those that remain? Any administrator deserving of the role should already be tracking or aware of this. If it takes getting a group of politicians to tell you it is okay to do a basic management function, then we have a bigger task ahead of us if we want to fix issues in our schools. Furthermore, creating a panel to review the causes is great, but if that panel fails to ask any of the other 12,400+ educators questions, then the last work that should be used to describe the effectiveness is “proactive”.

On the positive, discussions around teacher pay as well as on how teacher evaluations are done makes a lot of sense. These are topics that do need to be addressed at the state and district level.

The article actually includes retention rates for Indiana schools. I’ve not verified the data with what our administration, but I’ll assume that RTV6 has verified this. Here are numbers for some of the HSE Schools for 2014-15. Note that our average from these schools is 81%, just under the state average of 82%.  Nine of the schools scored below the state average.

School Name


Total Retention Rate
571 Brooks School Elementary 45 57 79%
572 Cumberland Road Elem School 25 34 74%
573 Durbin Elementary School 19 25 76%
574 Fall Creek Elementary School 34 40 85%
575 Fall Creek Intermediate School 43 65 66%
576 Fishers Elementary School 27 27 100%
577 Fishers High School 141 157 90%
578 Fishers Junior High School 54 67 81%
580 Geist Elementary School 35 42 83%
581 Hamilton SE Int and Jr High Sch 31 67 46%
582 Hamilton Southeastern HS 133 162 82%
583 Harrison Parkway Elementary School 33 35 94%
584 Hoosier Road Elementary School 37 42 88%
585 Lantern Road Elementary School 29 32 91%
586 New Britton Elementary School 30 36 83%
587 Riverside Intermediate School 52 60 87%
588 Riverside Junior High 60 71 85%
589 Sand Creek Elementary 32 46 70%
590 Sand Creek Intermediate School 54 64 84%
591 Thorpe Creek Elementary 36 45 80%
950 1174 81%


Clearly there is work to be done in the area of retaining good teachers.