Check out your school's score: Newly released Louisiana high school letter grades on rise, but there's a catch... _lowres

Advocate file photo by BRAD BOWIE -- John White, Louisiana superintendent of education, delivers opening remarks at the September Supervisor Collaboration event at Bayou Church on Monday.

Fueled by improved student performance and controversial bonus points, Louisiana public high school letter grades are at an all-time high, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.

“Schools met the terms that we needed them to meet,” White told reporters. “They have stepped up to give kids the support they needed to graduate from high school.”

The results show that 23 percent of high schools are rated A for 2014-15, up from 10 percent in 2013-14.

Another 29 percent are rated B, down from 30 percent last year; 21 percent are rated C, down from 28 percent last year; 20 percent are rated D, down from 24 percent last year and 8 percent are rated F, the same as last year.

White said high schools showed gains across the board, including the graduation rate and how students fared on the ACT, which measures college readiness.

The 2014 graduation rate, the latest available, is 74.6 percent, a gain of 1.1 percentage points over 2013.

That translated into an additional 1,600 students earning diplomas, state officials said, including 1,200 more minority students.

The state’s average composite ACT score rose to 19.4 percent out of 36, a gain of 0.2 percentage points and a key factor in the rise in grades.

That increase was the largest among states that, like Louisiana, require all students to take the ACT.

The state’s composite score remains among the lowest in the nation.

The announcement is likely to re-open debate about bonus points that critics say pave the way for a rosier than reality picture of education performance.

Schools earn points for gains among low-achiving students in math and English, and 100 of 174 high schools -- 57 percent -- did just that.

High schools earned an average of 3.7 progress points, which can pave the way for a higher letter grade.

Leaders of the Louisiana Schools Boards Association and the Council for a Better Louisiana have previously complained that schools are getting rewards even for students who turn in below average work.

Scott Richard, executive director of the LSBA, said Thursday that, while he does not want to diminish the gains, the impact of bonus points -- the state calls them progress points -- raises questions about the results.

“Anytime the accountability system can be manipulated using a mechanism such as progress points it always raises eyebrows,” Richard said.

He said the issue points up the need for a third-party review of Louisiana’s accountability system.

White told reporters that Louisiana’s top school board included the extra points in the formula at the request of local school superintendents, and that some pushed for an even more generous policy.

“As you raise the bar you have to protect the interests of low-achieving kids,” he said.

White said bonus points only account for a maximum of 10 points of a possible 150.

Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he has argued against use of the progress points, which he said “create reliability issues within the accountability system.”

The grades released on Thursday only apply to high schools limited to students in grades 9-12.

High schools are assigned grades based on how students fared in five areas: core courses, ACT marks; graduation rates; college readiness and other diploma enhancements and gains by struggling students.

Letter grades for elementary and other schools, and school districts, will be issued in December.

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