Academic achievement in New Orleans schools generally continues to improve, though it continues to lag behind most other districts. Louisiana’s transition to Common Core and its associated tests is uncertain, which makes the state’s academic future unclear. Nonetheless, even as schools have demonstrated improvement, ongoing investment, innovation, and commitment are necessary to create a sustainable system of public schools where all children have the opportunity to receive a high quality education.
Public schools in Louisiana are evaluated by the LDOE and assigned a school performance score (SPS) based on a set of criteria. Each year, schools receive a numbered score, which corresponds to a letter grade. Beginning in the 2012-13 school year, LDOE changed the scale by which schools are assessed.107 The formulas that are used to calculate the SPS are listed below. Schools that serve students in grades K-8 are primarily graded based on their students’ standardized test scores.
The high school formula has four components, each given equal weight: ACT score, End of Course Tests, Graduation Rate, and Quality of Diploma. For the first time, a school can also receive up to 10 bonus points for making progress with its lowest-performing students.
Middle of the Pack
When LDOE changed the rating scale from 200 to 150 points, it also changed the distribution of schools by letter grades. The chart to the right illustrates how schools have converged in the middle under the new scale. The chart assigns letter grades based on the same year’s data to show that fewer schools received As or Fs, but more schools received Cs and Bs. The biggest change is in the number of F schools, which decreased by 55% in New Orleans.
LEAP & iLeap
As seen in the Figure 17, the percentage of public school students in Orleans Parish at and above basic has increased 15 percentage points since 2009. RSD schools have been the main driver behind that increase, having grown 20 percentage points.108 OPSB schools started at a much higher level and have grown five percentage points during that same period.
Notably, schools’ performance on LEAP and iLEAP across the state in 2013-14, and in OPSB and RSD, remained unchanged from the 2012-13 school year.109 Many predicted that pass rates would decline as more difficult tests were implemented to be aligned with Common Core.110 However, unlike other states, Louisiana did not immediately raise the passing score, which has prevented an immediate drop in pass rates.
In Louisiana, as implementation of Common Core standards progresses, the passing scores will gradually be raised to the Mastery level by the year 2025.111 Superintendent John White said that in order for a district to earn an A in 2025, it will be required to have its average student at Mastery or above, which no district currently demonstrates.112 If measured by that standard today, few districts are performing well. Only 24 percent of Louisiana students, and 19 percent of New Orleans students, scored at Mastery and above in 2014. Schools under OPSB performed relatively well, with 42 percent of students at Mastery and above, while RSD schools had just 12 percent of its students at that level.113
Public schools in Louisiana began the transition to the Common Core State Standards and aligned PARCC assessments in the 2010-11 school year.114 In June of 2014, Governor Bobby Jindal signed an executive order halting the purchase of PARCC tests.115 The Governor also wrote letters notifying the National Governors Association, The Council of Chief School Officers, and PARCC that Louisiana would not continue to implement the standards and tests. Immediately following the Governor’s actions, State Superintendent of Education John White announced that the Governor did not have the authority to stop implementation of the standards and tests.116 BESE has joined a lawsuit against Governor Jindal regarding the constitutionality of his actions.117
While Common Core’s fate in Louisiana is uncertain, schools were scheduled to fully implement the standards and tests in the 2014-15 school year and BESE planned to gradually implement aligned school accountability through 2025.118 For the next two years, BESE will not change the distribution of school letter grades, as part of the transition to the new standards and tests.119
End of Course Tests
In Louisiana, high school students take End of Course (EOC) tests in six subjects: Algebra I, Geometry, English II and III, Biology and U.S. History. Students receive one of the following ratings: Needs Improvement, Fair, Good, or Excellent. In order to pass the course, a student must score at or above Fair, but for a school to receive points towards its SPS, its students must score at or above Good.120
Despite improvement in the average New Orleans school, Figure 19 illustrates that the EOC index in most city schools were still below the state average in 2013. OPSB schools have traditionally fared better than RSD students and its students ranked 11th in the state for the percentage of students scoring Good or Excellent in 2014. Though New Orleans’ RSD students still rank near the bottom in the state, their scores improved at the third fastest rate in the state between 2009 and 2014 with an increase of 34 percentage points.121
ACT & State Scholarships
LDOE began requiring that all 11th grade students take the ACT, free of charge, in the 2012-13 school year, which led to increased test completion throughout the state and in New Orleans.122 Across all subject areas (English, Math, Reading, and Science), Louisiana students scored 19.5 on a 36 point scale, which was below the average U.S. student (20.9). New Orleans students (18.1) performed below the Louisiana average.123
While the average student in New Orleans performed below average, some New Orleans schools were well above average. Benjamin Franklin (28.2) and Lusher Charter School (24.1) both ranked among the top 10 schools in the state.
ACT performance in New Orleans was highly variable and many schools did not perform well. The ACT score is an important criterion for students hoping to be eligible for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), which provides students with scholarships to Louisiana state colleges and universities. To qualify for the Opportunity Award, a student must receive an ACT score above the previous year’s state average, which is currently at 20. The student must also have at least a 2.50 GPA in their core courses. Students with higher ACT scores may be eligible for additional funds through the Performance or Honors awards.124
The Tech Award can be used at state technical schools and community colleges. To qualify, a student must score a 17 or higher on the ACT and have a GPA of 2.50 or higher in their core courses.125
The TOPS Opportunity, Performance, and Honors Awards are limited to four years; the Tech Award is limited to 2 years. In order to maintain any of the scholarships, a student generally must keep their GPA at or above 2.50 at the end of each spring semester.126
TOPS awards are only one way for New Orleans high school graduates to receive financial support for post-secondary education, with many students receiving need- and merit-based scholarships. The Times-Picayune reported that as of May 1, 2014, city public school Class of 2014 had been awarded over $53 million in merit scholarships.127
Graduation Rates and College Enrollment
Cohort graduation rates in New Orleans, which measure the percent of students graduating high school in four years, mirrored the state average (about 73% in 2012-13).135 However, there is disparity between OPSB and RSD schools. OPSB high school students ranked near the top of the state with a cohort graduation rate of 89.3 percent while RSD-New Orleans’ rate was only 67.7 percent.136
These trends carry over to students’ college matriculation. More high school graduates from OPSB enroll in college immediately after graduation than RSD graduates. Matriculating OPSB students enroll in four-year colleges at a higher rate (73 percent) than RSD (56 percent).137 Nearly half of RSD’s class of 2012 who enrolled in college chose to attend a 2-year school as opposed to less than 30 percent for OPSB.138
New Orleans high schools have begun to place greater emphasis on better preparing their students for post-secondary success. Schools have reported the following initiatives:
Achievement and Choice
Students have shown their preference for schools that have higher school performance scores. In both elementary and high schools, schools with worse school letter grades tend to have enrollments below capacity.139 Excess capacity especially exists at the high school-level where half of the graded schools are under enrolled. All but one of the D and F schools are below capacity.
2012-13 Attendance Rates
Attendance rates vary by school operator and grade level. RSD students miss more days on average than other New Orleans public school students and attendance rates tend to decrease as students enter high school. Attendance rates are important indicators of student engagement and success.140
While school-level attendance averages may seem high, over a quarter of New Orleans students were classified as chronically absent. Chronic absenteeism refers to students who miss 10 percent or more of school days.141 Figure 25 below shows how much more serious the problem of chronic absenteeism is for New Orleans high school students.
Youth Opportunity Center
As a result of the CEA between OPSB and RSD, the two districts will use funds from Harrah’s Casino to expand the Truancy Center into a proactive, preventative Youth Opportunity Center (YOC).142 The YOC will provide chronically absent students with comprehensive case management designed to address the challenges facing the youth and their families.143
The YOC will also serve students who are transitioning out of secure and non-secure custody. Students who are in the Judicial System and returning back to school from prison are at an increased risk of dropping out of school. In addition to providing support to students and their families, the YOC will provide schools with a research-based framework to respond to chronic absenteeism and re-entry from prison for effective intervention. RSD will run the YOC during its first pilot year. The YOC is expected to open its doors in August 2014.144