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NOLA Public School Enrollment By Letter Grade: 2018 vs. 2005 Schools Still Have A Way To Go, But We're Light Years From Where We Started

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As I detailed in a post last week, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) recently released annual school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS) for the 2017-18 school year.

A conversation on Facebook spurred my curiosity to find out how many students were attending A, B, C, D, and F-graded schools in New Orleans.

I pulled February 2018 Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) enrollment data, matched it with school letter grade data for each New Orleans school, and tallied the number of students attending schools at each performance level. (You can see my spreadsheet with this data here.)

Finally, I created a chart showing the number of students attending schools at each letter grade…

A little over two-thirds of New Orleans public school students attended schools graded “C” or better last year. Ten percent were enrolled in “F” schools last year, although that number has likely shrunk, as three of those failing schools (Mahalia Jackson, ReNEW McDonogh City Park, and Sylvanie Williams) closed at the end of the 2017-2018 year.


Read my earlier take on NOLA school performance:

The Grades Are In… | PE + CO

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.


Now let’s look at the distribution in 2005…

I then decided to take it a step further and create the same chart for New Orleans students in 2004-2005, the last full school year prior to Hurricane Katrina.

However, there’s a few things that I need to mention about the data. To start, Louisiana’s accountability system didn’t assign letter grades to schools until 2011; back in 2005, schools only received School Performance Scores (SPS). Therefore, I used the 2011 grading scale to assign a letter grade for each New Orleans school in 2004-2005.

The grading scale used by the Louisiana Department of Education in 2011.

The second, more important point is that the performance bar for schools has risen significantly since 2005. Not only has the state adopted a more rigorous set of academic standards in ELA and math based on the Common Core, but the grading scale has shifted, making it more difficult for schools to get an “A”.

Furthermore, this year, LDOE stopped grading schools on a curve used to ease the transition to the state’s new standards. Previously, schools received SPS points for students who scored “Basic” or above on the state’s standardized tests. Now, students have to achieve “Mastery” or above to be counted in their school’s SPS score. In short, if New Orleans schools in 2005 were judged by today’s performance standards, the number of “F” schools would be much higher.

Finally, the enrollment data used for the chart below comes from the October 2004 MFP count.

With that said, here’s how many students were enrolled at schools at each letter grade in 2005…

This chart illustrates how dismal the situation was for New Orleans’ public schools in 2005. Nearly two-thirds of the city’s students – more than 39,000 kids – were stuck in failing schools. Only 16% were enrolled in schools graded “C” or higher.

Clearly much has changed in the past thirteen years. While we still have too many kids in “D” and “F” schools, not only are more kids attending better schools, but they’re performing at a much higher level.

That’s something people said couldn’t be done. We proved them wrong.

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.

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NOLA

Which New Orleans Schools Made The Grade? An Analysis Of 2019 Letter Grades & School Performance Scores

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🎶IT’S THE MOST WON-DER-FUL TIME OF THE YEAR… 🎶

… Or at least, it’s the most wonderful time of the year for those New Orleans schools that showed progress on their 2018-19 school letter grades and School Performance Scores (SPS), which were released by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) on Wednesday.

This was the second year that school and district performance was assessed using new formulas that incorporate students’ annual growth on state standardized tests, which the state adopted as part of its plan to comply with the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law that replaced No Child Left Behind. As a reminder, here’s a breakdown of how school performance is measured 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.

This year also marked the first time that Louisiana’s alternative schools were graded using a new accountability framework that takes into account the unique circumstances in those settings. Previously, alternative schools and traditional schools were assessed using the same formula, with the result that every alternative school in the state received an “F” year after year. 

With that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at school performance in New Orleans…

NOLA School Performance: The Big Picture

Overall, the district’s performance score ticked up 1.6 points (from 66.2 to 67.8) in 2019, while maintaining its “C” letter grade.

Out of 81 public schools operating in New Orleans last year, 57% (45) received a grade of “C” or better, 28% (23) received a “D”, and 15% (12) were deemed failing. It should be noted that six of those “D” and “F”-rated schools (Cypress, Harney, Nelson, Fischer, McDonogh #32, and Clark) were closed last year. Another “D” school, McDonogh #35, was taken over by the high-performing InspireNOLA charter network this summer and relaunched under their management in August.

McDonogh #35 alumni, including New Orleans City Councilman Jared Brossett, above, joined InspireNOLA to welcome students back to school earlier this year.

Ben Franklin High School was once again the highest-performing school in the city with a SPS of 135.5, easily beating its selective admissions rival Lusher, which came in at number two with a score of 123.1. Meanwhile, whatever New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy is doing must be working; it’s not only the highest-performing open-enrollment school in the city, but its SPS score jumped 10 points year-over-year.

Other open-enrollment standouts this past year included Warren Easton, Edna Karr, Lycée Français, Rosenwald Collegiate, and International School of Louisiana. (And yes, I’m intentionally leaving out Hynes and Audubon from this list since the former is somehow allowed to pull a good portion of their students from one of the wealthiest zip codes in city, while the latter gives enrollment preference to children whose families can pay for their pre-kindergarten program. Sorry, not sorry.)

NOLA School Performance: The Most Improved

The addition of a growth measurement to the grading formula is a welcome change since our so many of our city’s students enter school well-behind where they should be. It allows us to identify schools whose students are making significant academic growth over the course of the year, even though that progress might not be reflected in an absolute measure of performance.

This past year, 74% of New Orleans public schools received an “A” or “B” on their progress index, which gauges student growth year-to-year. Students at Dwight D. Eisenhower showed the most growth of any open-enrollment school in the city, followed by Habans, Wilson, Harte, and McDonogh #42.

The top ten schools with the highest progress index scores in the city.

In terms of SPS, Sophie B. Wright saw the biggest increase of any school in the city – jumping an impressive 17 points – which makes one wonder why they were so concerned about a silly senior prank last year. Landry-Walker, whose performance plunged following a testing scandal, rebounded with their SPS rising 12.4 points and their letter grade jumping from a “F” to a “C”. Eisenhower, which was taken over by InspireNOLA, also saw a significant jump of more than 12 points, while McDonogh #42 rose nearly 10 points.

NOLA School Performance: The Bottom Feeders

On the other end of the spectrum are those schools that saw some of the biggest drops in performance last year and the list includes some surprising names. For example, Lafayette Academy saw its SPS fall 15 points and its grade plummet from a “C” to a “F”. Rooted School, a so-called “micro school” that has gotten lots of attention for its focus on preparing students for careers in the tech industry, fell 13.1 points, although it still earned a “C” grade overall. Booker T. Washington, which is part of the nationally-recognized KIPP charter school network and recently moved into a new school building in Central City, also saw a double-digit drop of 10.2 points.

There are also some not-so-surprising names on the list. Lawrence D. Crocker, which is run by the struggling New Orleans College Prep network, earned an “F” grade after its SPS fell nearly 14 points. Of particular concern are the three remaining schools in the ReNEW Schools network, which seems to be (or more accurately should be) on a trajectory toward dissolution. ReNEW Schaumburg in New Orleans East went from a “D” to an “F” this past year, while its other two schools, Dolores T. Aaron and SciTech both earned a “D”. Meanwhile, Joseph A. Craig, which is run by the once-admired-but-now-dishonored Friends of King network, earned an “F” grade and a woefully-bad SPS of 38.8. And finally, Mary D. Coghill, which is overseen by the ironically-named Better Choice Foundation, will likely be closed at the end of the school year after earning an “F” and SPS of 44.

You can explore grades and SPS scores for all New Orleans schools in the table below.

NOLA School Performance: Explore The Data

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NOLA

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 name, 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.

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