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The Grades Are In… A Look At 2018 NOLA School Letter Grades & School Performance Scores

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On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released annual school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS) – which are akin to number grades – for the 2017-18 school year.

For the first time, the formulas used to measure school performance incorporate students’ growth from year to year on state standardized tests. Here’s how the change impacts performance measures at various grade configurations:

  • For elementary grades, 25% of letter grades and SPS scores are based on student growth, with the rest based on an absolute measure of achievement on state standardized tests;
  • For middle grades, 25% of letter grades and SPS scores are based on student growth, 70% is based on an absolute measure of student performance on tests, and 5% is based on a metric that measures how many credits their recently graduated students accumulate in their freshman year of high school.
  • For high schools, 25% is based on a metric incorporating test performance and student growth, 25% is based on the cohort graduation rate, 25% is based on achievement on the ACT and career-readiness assessments, and the final 25% is based on a metric that takes into account in how many students take college-level classes (such as Advanced Placement) and earn Jump Start credentials.

A graphic showing the components of letter grades and SPS scores at the elementary, middle, and high school levels from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Because the student growth measure is new this year, LDOE also included letter grades and SPS scores that were calculated using the old formula to make it easier to compare school performance between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years.

One final change to the accountability system also went into effect this year. Students now have to score “Mastery” or above to be counted as on grade level to earn points on the School Performance Score. Previously, students who scored “Basic” or above were considered on grade level. This essentially makes it harder for schools to earn an “A” rating.

Now let’s take a look at how school performance in New Orleans…

How did schools perform this year?

Under the new formula, out of 84 schools operating in New Orleans last year, nearly two-thirds received a grade of “C” or better. Only fifteen schools received failing grades, and of those, five are alternative schools and three were closed at the end of the year (and others in that unfortunate group will likely close at the end of the current school year).

As might be expected, the city’s selective admissions schools were among the highest performers in terms of SPS, with Ben Franklin High School once again securing the top spot with a score of 135.2. However, several open enrollment schools rounded out the top ten, including Warren Easton, Karr, Hynes, New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy (the perennial “sleeper” among the high performers), International School of La., and Alice Harte.

As for the schools that had biggest gains year-over-year, Mildred Osborne topped the list, with an SPS gain of 21.8 points (this is using the old formula to make the scores comparable), followed by Crocker (+15.7), McMain (+13.9), and Encore (+12.2). ReNEW McDonogh City Park also saw one of the biggest year-over-year jumps in SPS (12.8 points), which you have to respect, since the school was headed for closure at the end of school year and yet they went out with a bang.

On the other end of the spectrum, James M. Singleton had the biggest year-over-year drop in SPS, which isn’t much a surprise after the school was rocked by a testing scandal earlier this year which resulted in the resignations of several staff members, including the CEO. Robert Russa Moton, another school that has been under fire in recent months (in its case, for failing to serve special needs students), had the second biggest drop in the district, falling almost 19 SPS points between 2017 and 2018. Back in 2013, Moton was also investigated for cheating and Moton principal Paulette Bruno is battling a a five year-old charge of nepotism before the Louisiana Board of Ethics. Given all these problems, it kind of makes you wonder how these two schools are still open.

Which schools are the best/worst performing over the past five years?

When we take a longer view of performance, the data gets even more interesting, because it surfaces a number of often-overlooked schools that have been quietly getting things done. The school with the biggest improvement over the past five years is KIPP Renaissance, which has seen its SPS score jump an impressive 38.8 points over that period. Paul Habans, is the second Most Improved Player in the district with an SPS gain of nearly 30 points since 2014. Other school improvement standouts include New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy (+27.1 – again, crushing it under-the-radar), Andrew Wilson (+24.4), and Mildred Osborne (+18.1).

KIPP Renaissance and Paul Habans have seen the biggest jumps in SPS in the district over the past five years.

Finally, we come to schools that have seen the biggest declines in SPS over the past five years. If we exclude schools that have been closed, once again Singleton comes out on bottom with a decline of 42.5 points. Landry-Walker High School, which was rocked by a testing scandal from which it hasn’t recovered, had the second biggest SPS drop (-40.4 points) since 2014. The school also received an “F” grade from LDOE on Thursday. Nevertheless, the school was inexplicably praised on social media by the Algiers Charter Schools Association for having “top growth” in Algebra I.

As for the other biggest decliners over the past five years, there are few surprises. Pierre A. Capdau, which was one of the first schools taken over by the RSD prior to Hurricane Katrina, is still struggling all these years later, with its SPS score declining nearly 40 points since 2014. Einstein, which recently fought a legal battle against the district’s transportation requirements that blew up in its face, has declined by nearly 35 points. And rounding out the bottom five is another familiar face, Moton, which has seen its SPS score decline 32 points.


Compare how schools have performed over the past five years:

Use the filters on the right to compare the School Performance Scores of various schools between 2014 and 2018.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.

NOLA

Peeking Behind The Curtain… Thirteen years after Katrina, UTNO is still a shadow of its former self

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The United Teachers of New Orleans (UTNO) was once the largest union local in Louisiana and a powerful force in local politics. That changed thirteen years ago, when Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, killed nearly 1,000 residents, and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the city’s perennially-failing public school system was in complete disarray. After decades of corruption and mismanagement, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) was essentially bankrupt and board members were unable to set aside their differences to effectively respond to the crisis. The state soon moved to takeover nearly all of the city’s public schools and put them under the oversight of the Recovery School District (RSD). As a result, the school board had little choice but to layoff nearly 7,600 of its employees in September 2005.

Within months, UTNO’s membership had plummeted more than 90 percent, from approximately 4,700 members before Katrina to only 300 in the spring of 2006. It was a blow from which the union has never recovered.

UTNO had approximately 4,700 members before Katrina; by May 2006, the union had only 300 members left.

As the city embarked on a radical transformation of the school system, there was little interest among educators in reviving UTNO, an organization which many viewed as part of the problem before the storm. Lacking support, UTNO largely faded from public view, while relying on its parent union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to subsidize its operations.

However, over the past five years, UTNO’s fortunes have gotten a shot in the arm, as AFT has taken an aggressive stance against charter schools and has sought to discredit and undermine the success of New Orleans’ charter-driven school reforms,

According to its annual reports to the U.S. Department of Labor, AFT steered more than $2.3 million to UTNO between F.Y. 2012 and F.Y. 2017 to underwrite organizing efforts in New Orleans charter schools. Yet in spite of this infusion of cash, the results of these efforts have been mixed.

Since 2015, UTNO has launched organizing drives at five local charters, but only two of those schools – Ben Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School – have voluntarily recognized the union. Meanwhile, a contentious push to organize Lusher Charter School was ultimately voted down by teachers, while UTNO’s attempts to organize International High School and Mary D. Coghill have stalled due to legal challenges.

UTNO’s effort to organize teachers at Lusher was ultimately voted down.

Where do things stand with UTNO today?

To get some idea about UTNO’s current strength, I recently took a look at campaign finance reports from UTNO’s Committee on Political Education (COPE), which is a fancy name for its political action committee. Most AFT affiliates, like UTNO, have associated COPE PACs, which are funded through voluntary contributions made by members. As opposed to super PACs, which can engage in unlimited independent spending, COPEs can only make direct contributions to candidates of up to $2,500.

UTNO COPE’s 2017 annual Committee Report, which the union submitted to the Louisiana Board of Ethics in February of this year, is of particular interest. First of all, it reveals that UTNO has been rather sloppy when it comes to managing its members’ COPE contributions. According to a note included in the report, the union accidentally deposited over $740 of COPE funds in the wrong bank account and didn’t realize the mistake until a year later.

The filing also reveals that UTNO can’t seem to follow basic reporting guidelines, which require PACs to identify the names of each contributor, the amount of their contribution, and the date on which those contributions were made. Instead, the union attached what appears to be a membership list to the report, which nevertheless still doesn’t indicate who contributed to UTNO COPE, nor how much they contributed.

The list itself, which I’ve reproduced below, contains the names of 592 members, many of whom are retired. Even if incomplete, the list corroborates indirect estimates of UTNO’s membership gleaned from its tax filings with the IRS, which indicate the union could have no more than 650 members.

In sum, while UTNO’s membership has rebounded somewhat since its low point immediately after Katrina, the union is still a shadow of its former self. Although AFT has poured money into organizing charter schools in the city, they clearly haven’t gotten a return on their investment. For those of us who want to see the school system move forward and build upon its successes over the past thirteen years, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.


Read UTNO COPE’s Annual Committee Report:


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NOLA

The Great NOLA Train Wreck Disappointing School Performance Scores Point To Need For Changes

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This story has been updated with additional information below.

The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released 2016-17 School and District Performance Scores and letter grades on Tuesday, and while the summative performance of the state’s public schools rose from a “C” to a “B” this past year, the results from New Orleans’ schools can only be described as a train wreck. Three-fifths of the city’s public schools saw their performance scores decline in 2016-17 and the district’s overall grade dropped from a “B” to a “C”.

Every fall, LDOE issues updated letter grades and School Performance Scores (or SPS, which are akin to number grades) for every public school in the state. Scores for elementary schools are based entirely on standardized test results. For middle schools, 95% of SPS is based on testing and 5% is based on credits earned through the end of their students’ freshman year in high school. The SPS formula for high schools takes into account ACT and end-of-course test scores, a “graduation index” that measures factors like Advanced Placement participation, and the cohort graduation rate. All schools can receive bonus points if they make significant academic gains with struggling students.

Graphic from the Louisiana Department of Education.

These annual letter grades and performance scores not only provide families and policymakers with a clear picture of how schools are progressing, but they play an integral role in the state’s accountability system by identifying failing schools that require intervention and determining whether charters should be renewed.

The recent slump in performance in New Orleans couldn’t come at a worse time. More than a dozen charters are up for renewal before the end of the year and the Recovery School District (RSD) is scheduled to hand over control of its schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) in July. That means RSD and OPSB officials will face difficult decisions over the fate of several schools in the coming months that will test their commitment to holding the city’s charters accountable. It also means that the city’s education leaders need to step back and identify the root causes of the drop in performance, as well as recommit themselves to focusing on academic achievement as their primary goal.

Now let’s take a closer examination of how schools fared in New Orleans…

The 15 worst performing schools in 2016-17

These 15 schools saw the biggest SPS declines between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

A number of things stand out when looking at the schools that saw the biggest SPS declines in 2016-17, but the most striking is that ReNEW Schools clearly had a terrible year. Four of the charter network’s schools – Schaumburg, Sci Tech, Dolores T. Aaron, and Cultural Arts Academy at Live Oak – ended up among fifteen worst-performing schools in the city.

While a case can certainly be made that Schaumburg’s dismal performance is attributable to the fact that it was struck by a tornado in February, it is much harder to make excuses for the other three ReNEW schools on the list. These results, coming on the heels of several scandals at ReNEW in recent years (including all sorts of malfeasance at ReNew SciTech), should raise serious questions about the future of the network.

It’s also interesting to note that Einstein finds itself among the worst-performing schools in the city. Not only has Einstein rapidly expanded its network of schools (and just got approval to open a new school in Little Rock), but OPSB recently cited Einstein for failing to provide bus transportation to many of its elementary students.

Einstein is currently gearing up for a legal fight over the district’s transportation mandate – a policy that every other school in the city has to follow – that they are unlikely to win. Perhaps if Einstein spent more time focused on academics and less on trying to skirt the rules, they wouldn’t find themselves near the bottom of the pile.

The 15 worst performing schools over the past four years

These 15 schools have had the biggest SPS declines over the past four years.

Looking at the fifteen worst performing schools over the past four years, two names in particular stand out: Capdau and Nelson. These two schools were the first taken over by the RSD in 2004 and the fact that they’re still struggling thirteen years later is inexcusable. (The same could be said of Fischer, which was notoriously bad long before Katrina.)

There are also a few surprises on the list, such as the fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School now finds itself among the lowest of the low. King, which was the first school to reopen in the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina, was once celebrated as one of the highest-performing schools in the city. That luster has worn off over time (MLK’s leaders have, at different times, faced nepotism charges and been accused of turning away special needs students) and apparently the school’s academic performance has gone with it.

The 15 best performing schools in 2016-17

These 15 schools saw the biggest SPS gains between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

Turning to the brighter side of things, it’s interesting to note that many of the most-improved schools in the city last year also happen to be those that are rarely highlighted in discussions of New Orleans’ reforms. Although not listed above, Ben Franklin High School once again was recognized as the highest-performing public school in the state with a SPS of 141.3 (on a scale of 150).

The highest performing RSD school this year was Livingston Collegiate, an open-enrollment high school launched by the Collegiate Academies network last fall, which received an SPS of 115.9.

The 15 best performing schools over the past four years

These 15 schools have had the biggest SPS gains over the past four years.

Taking a longer view of school improvement over the past four years, KIPP schools – KIPP Renaissance and KIPP N.O. Leadership – clinched two of the most-improved spots on the list. New Orleans Maritime and Military Academy, which employs what could be considered the ultimate “no-excuses” charter model, has also made significant progress, with its SPS rising nearly 26 points since 2014.

Sophie B. Wright and Paul Habans – along with Andrew Wilson, which was taken over by InspireNOLA in 2015 – have also seen double-digit jumps in their performance scores in the past few years.


Update: 11/10/17

I wanted to add two responses from readers regarding the data above. The first comes from Kathy Padian, who formerly oversaw charter schools for the Orleans Parish School Board:

The second comment comes from Rhonda Dale, principal of Abramson Sci Academy, a open-enrollment high school in New Orleans East:


Explore the SPS trends of NOLA schools:


Explore NOLA’s School Performance Scores:

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Peter C. Cook
Peter C. Cook @petercook
New Orleans, Louisiana peterccook.com
Education Reformer • New Orleanian • Progressive • Democrat • Proud TFA alum • Check out my new side project: @retortonline
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