Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Achievement report for schools are cause for concern

27th October 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Kari Dequine Harden
Contributing Writer

The annual release of School Performance Scores carries varied weight for the varied interests.

The results for the 2013-2014 school year were published last week.

On the district level, the Recovery School District (RSD) and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) remained nearly unchanged from the 2012-2013 school year.

The RSD received a “C” letter grade of 71.2 points out of 150, down slightly from a score of 71.9 in 2013. The OPSB, which is largely made of schools that only accept high-performing students, received an A, one point up from 2013.

But individual schools saw more significant changes. More than 30 schools saw their scores drop, some by small amounts and some more considerably.

Of the 63 schools that received a letter grade (some are given a “T” for “transitional”), 11 moved up a full letter grade, and 19 moved down a full letter grade.

But an analysis of the numbers must also ask the question: Do these numbers genuinely measure the quality of a school?

The scales and grading systems change every year, and are based almost entirely on standardized test scores, with graduation rates incorporated for high schools. The obsessive and myopic focus on standardized tests also begs the question: How well do these tests measure the knowledge base and worth of child?

As push-back against the fanatical use of standardized tests (a billion dollar industry) grows nationally, more research is examining whether tests measure comprehensive knowledge about the subject, or knowledge about how to be a good test-taker.

For the supporters of the privatization of education in New Orleans, the annual School Performance Scores somehow always – and must – show that the grand experiment is working, and that charter schools are better than traditional public schools.

For skeptics, the School Performance Scores are at best arbitrary, and at worst, misleading, manipulated, and full of political spin.

For schools, which in New Orleans all but six are privately run publicly funded charter schools, consistently poor scores can mean the loss of the charter contract. With millions of dollars and jobs at stake, and schools now run as businesses, low-scoring students become a liability.

For teachers, the highly dubious Value Added Model uses students test scores to rate teaching abilities, forcing teachers to teach to the test or lose their job.

For students, the label of being in a “failing” school could have long-term detrimental effects.

For parents who simply want to access the best education for their children, the SPS is the state’s most prominent measurement of the quality of a school, but fails to take into consideration anything about the school environment, extra-curricular activities, or components such as the quality of mental and emotional health care at a school or a school’s ability to educate the kids with the highest needs.

No parent wants their kid at a “D” or “F” or even a “C” school, but many are forced into the numerous C, D and F schools. Only eight of the city’s public schools were given an “A” for the 2013-2014 school year. Of those eight, four cherry-pick their students and many argue should not even be included in the same rating system. None of the top 10 schools are in the RSD, the state-run agency that changed the law in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina so it could seize control of most of the city’s schools.

Despite nine years of unprecedented funding and autonomy, the RSD continues to have a significant percentage of D and F schools. The RSD persists in its failure to achieve an “A” school.

While schools are expected to go through a transitional period as they adapt to the Common Core curriculum, the state accounted for that in the 2014 scores by grading schools and students on a curve. According to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE): “The 2014 report cards are part of the state’s multi-year transition to higher academic expectations. During the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 school years, educators, parents, and students are learning the new expectations, as the state’s tests and accountability system adjust. Louisiana committed to a gradual change process, ensuring that schools would not be humiliated, educators not denigrated, and students not punished in the process.”

Bizarrely, the words “Common Core standards” are always replaced with phrases like “higher academic expectations.”

Regardless of the philosophical debate on the meaning of the scores, they can carry significant consequences for schools, especially charter schools.

Twenty-six charter schools have contracts that are up for renewal or extensions.

The schools that appear potentially at risk of losing their charters because of persistent failing scores are Andrew Wilson Charter, Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, and Renew Accelerated (an alternative school). Clark is run by Firstline Schools, a charter operator that saw declines at all five of its schools.

There are now many more schools eligible for return to the OPSB and local control – a total of 36. However since the state takeover, none have chosen to do so. The decision can only be made by the unelected charter boards, and there seems to be little incentive for returning to increased accountability and oversight.

The school that saw the largest gain was Pierre A. Capdau Charter, moving 41 points from an “F” to a “B.” The largest loss was at Paul Habans Elementary, which fell 46 points from a “B” to an “F.” Those two schools are connected, in that principal Desmond Moore moved from Habans to Capdau for the 2013-2014 school year. Habans was taken over by Crescent City Schools.

McDonogh #35 Academy also saw a huge fall in its score – moving 28 points down the scale to an F.

Other schools that saw significant gains were Lawrence D. Crocker Elementary, Robert Russa Moton Charter, and James M. Singleton Charter.

All of the school and district scores can be found on the LDOE website at

This article originally published in the October 27, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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