HISTORICAL RELEASE OF LETTER GRADES UNDERSCORES?STATE’S EDUCATION REFORM AGENDA

Staff reports

To provide communities and families with a clear and meaningful depiction of school performance, today, for the first time in state history, the Louisiana Department of Education released letter grades to schools, districts and the state as a whole. The announcement was made at KIPP Central City Academy, a charter school in the Recovery School District, which achieved the one of the largest academic gains from 2010 to 2011. Through legislation championed by Governor Bobby Jindal last year, Louisiana is replacing its ambiguous star rating system with the same A-Fletter grade system used to evaluate students. 

“It is simply unacceptable to have 44 percent of schools earning D’s and F’s,” Board of Elementary and Secondary Education Member Chas Roemer said. “If we’re sincere about providing every child with the chance to attend a great school, we have to start by being honest and transparent about where we are and where we need to be. Holding ourselves accountable in the same way we hold our children accountable sends a strong message that we won’t be satisfied until all our students attend A+schools.”

In 2007, nearly 55 percent of Louisiana’s schools would have earned D’sand F’s. That number now stands at 44 percent, which represents a 20 percent decline from 2007. Additionally, the percentage of schools achieving a score high enough to earn an A or B has nearly doubled, from 14.9 percent in 2007 to 28.4 percent in 2011. In the last year alone, the percentage of schools that would have been considered D’s and F’s dropped from 50 percent to 44 percent.  

“Louisiana is continuing to improve, and some of our districts and schools are making substantial progress,” Acting State Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler said. “At the same time, the message is clear. We’re not improving fast enough. And we must all work together to achieve dramatic improvement now – for the sake of our children.”

To Tyler’s point, while the 2.2 bump from the state’s 2010 score denotes more students who are on track, still one-third, or 230,000 students, lack the grade-level knowledge and skills to succeed academically.   

“In some cases, where districts and schools have adopted key reforms and proven strategies, they achieved extraordinary gains,” Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue said. “But it’s clear we have a lot more work to do.” 

Over the last several years, Louisiana has embarked on an aggressive reform agenda, including legislation passed in 2010 requiring teacher and principal evaluations to be based on student growth, the adoption of a new curriculum and assessments that are more closely aligned with college and work expectations, and a relentless focus on turning around the state’s lowest performing schools. In fact, several states have adopted Louisiana’s school turnaround model – the RSD.

While state officials point to significant overall improvement from 2010 to 2011, among the highlights noted is the growth of schools in the Recovery School District, which assumes responsibility for chronically failing schools. Specifically: 

·         For three of the last four years, Louisiana’s school turnaround model has been ranked highest for the percentage of gains achieved from one year to the next.  

·         Schools in the RSD Improved to Achieve An Average Gain of 6.7 Points or 11 Percent -- More than Three Times the Average Statewide Gain for All Schools (2.2 Points, or 2.4 Percent).

·         If current standards had been in place in 2008, 76 percent of RSD schools would have earned an F. Today that figure is down to 44 percent for RSD schools statewide, and 36 percent for RSD New Orleans schools.  

“The mission of the RSD is to transform failing schools,” RSD Superintendent John White said.  “And given that our students have made more progress than students in any other district, our schools are on their way to achieving their mission. Nonetheless, the letter grades are a reminder of how much farther the RSD and the state as a whole must advance to ensure our students thrive academically and professionally, regardless of whether they pursue college or the workforce after graduation.”   

What is in a Performance Score and Letter Grade?

Each year, schools receive numerical scores known as School Performance Scores (SPS). School Performance Scores reflect two years of data and are calculated for K-6th grade schools using student test scores (90%) and attendance (10%).  Schools with a 7th and 8th grade configuration receive an SPS based on attendance (5%), dropouts (5%) and student test scores (90%).  High schools (grades 9-12) receive an SPS based on test scores (70%) and their Graduation Index (30%).

District Performance Scores and the State’s Performance Score are a roll up of individual student scores on LEAP, iLEAP and GEE, as well as attendance, dropout and graduation outcomes – calculated using the same formula as School Performance Scores – but using only one year of data.

In 1999, Louisiana set a goal for every school in the state to earn an SPS of 100 or higher by 2009 and for every school in the state to achieve a performance score of 120 by 2014.  Growth Goals and Targets are assigned to schools annually based on the success a school makes toward meeting its Growth Target for the previous year and represent the amount of progress a school must make every year to reach the state’s SPS goal of 120 by the year 2014.  The maximum amount of growth a school is required to make is 10 points, while the minimum amount is two points.  Likewise, District and State Growth Goals and Targets are determined using the same method.

While letter grades are determined by the numeric scale set by BESE, whether a school receives a plus or minus or no symbol following its letter grade is determined by comparing their 2010 Baseline School Performance Score to their 2011 Growth Score. A plus sign (+) signifies a school has improved enough to meet their 2011 assigned Growth Target. A minus sign (-) indicates a school’s 2011 Growth Performance Score has declined by at least one-tenth of a point from its 2010 Baseline Performance Score. If a school does not receive a plus (+) or minus (-) sign, it signifies the school has either shown no growth or in some cases, improved its Baseline Score, but not enough to meet its 2011 Growth Performance Goal.