Public schools’ performance on the rise, scores show
9th November 2015 · 0 Comments
By Della Hasselle
New performance scores released by state officials last week showed sweeping improvements across Louisiana high schools, with almost one quarter earning the state’s top grade, an “A.”
That’s up 13 percent from the previous two years. In the six-parish New Orleans area, a dozen schools earned the state’s top grade, up from just seven schools last year.
On Oct. 29, officials deemed local education reform efforts a success story, touting overall better graduation rates, gains in ACT scores and satisfactory results from end-of-course subject exams.
“If you look at any measure, at any school demographic…New Orleans far and away is leading the nation in showing how we make progress and how we continue to move forward,” said Louisiana Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard.
The bigger picture for school performance across the state still isn’t clear, however, and controversy over how those scores are calculated leaves questions about how Louisiana’s graduates fare nationwide, even if they’re coming from an A-rated school.
For one, the results only include schools with enrollment of ninth through 12 grades. Scores for high schools that are part of a K-12 school won’t be released until December, officials said, because of a delay calculating results from the state’s new Common Core exam.
Louisiana’s grading system has also been brought into question. Although the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education calculates high school performance scores on a 150-point scale, a school gets an “A” grade if it gets just 100 points.
The score is based on a number of factors, including graduation rates, test scores and student progress.
“Today an “A” school is one in which the average performance is a minimum of ‘basic,’” officials said in a Louisiana Department of Education report.
To that end, Superintendent John White said 2015 is considered a “baseline” year. The standard is expected to increase over the next 10 years, until ultimately grading systems in Louisiana are on par with national expectations.
Last year, high school students in Louisiana didn’t take the new, national exam from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, as part of the “learning period” for local schools.
Experts say the test is harder, and results from states like New Jersey and Massachusetts, where the exam was given, show students are scoring lower and are less likely to meet grade-level standards.
But for now, Louisiana officials say they’re focused on progress.
At an Oct. 29 press conference, Dobard gathered at KIPP Renaissance with state and city officials, including New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, to tout overall school gains. Of the 42 grades calculated out of the area’s high schools, 15 got letter grade improvements.
Landrieu called the new scores “significant,” given New Orleans was once considered to have some of the worst public schools in the nation.
“In 2005, over 40,000, or 62 percent of our children, were in failing schools. That means we were failing them,” Landrieu said. “Not one has come close to this kind of education reform. We are in fact a model for the United States of America.”
New Orleans’ 9th Ward-based KIPP Renaissance earned the top spot on the state’s most-improved list, soaring from a “D” to a “B” in just a year’s time.
Officials called the 38.5-point gain “transformative.”
“They’re really changing the lives for these young people,” Dobard said of New Orleans-area educators.
Other local schools had significant gains, including a BESE-authorized charter school, the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, which had a 20.2-point gain. The school’s grade rose from a C to an A.
Two New Orleans-based schools under Recovery School District oversight also touted top gains. Joseph S. Clark Preparatory School climbed up to a D from a failing status with a 17-point gain, and Sci Academy had a 16.5-point gain, bringing the school from a C to a B.
Nearby, Riverdale High School in Jefferson Parish went from a B to an A with a 17.5-point change.
Some gains were helped by a new incentive system, where students’ hard work was rewarded when most-struggling students upped performance.
Called progress points, the BESE-approved system rewarded literacy and math growth among high school students. Schools earned a maximum of 10 points in the 150-point system if students increased ACT scores, exceeding the median projection based on past performance.
Of 174 high schools statewide, 57 percent earned progress points in 2015.
White dismissed any question that the award points skewed overall performance scores, however, pointing instead to increased ACT scores.
“It’s evident that all the hard work being done in our districts is paying off for our students,” White said.
As is typical, selective-admissions schools in the immediate area held on to their top spots with high-performing scores.
New Orleans’ Benjamin Franklin High School, long an A-rated school, again led the pack with a 138.9 score, better than any other high school so far in the state.
Jefferson Parish’s Thomas Jefferson High School, another selective school, scored close behind, with a 132.5 score and an A rating. Mandeville High School in St. Tammany also got a high score of 114.9.
Not every school touted gains, however. L.B. Landry-O. Perry Walker High School, an RSD school, lost 28.3 points, the most of any high school, and dropped from a B to a D.
The New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, a BESE-authorized school, also earned a B grade when it lost 21.5 points.
Statewide, 7.5 percent of high schools received an “F,” marking virtually no change in the previous two years.
In New Orleans, the only three schools that got a failing grade are alternative schools, which generally take students who are already behind.
The statewide accountability system can mean life or death for local charter schools, which must earn certain scores or show benchmarks of improvement in order to stay open.
Scores are also used to gauge whether or not charter schools under Recovery School District oversight are eligible to return to the Orleans Parish School Board, which lost control of most of the city’s poor-performing schools after Hurricane Katrina.
Michelle Blouin-Williams, OPSB chief administrative officer, said she was proud of the milestones students in her district had reached, but that the local school board refused to be “distracted.”
“We know tremendous effort remains to be done to ensure high quality education for our children,” she said.
This article originally published in the November 9, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.