Statewide hearings set on new school policies _lowres

State Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday public forums will be held statewide on how Louisiana plans to comply with a new federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

While the spread of public school letter grades is in a state-ordered holding pattern, it will soon be harder for schools and districts to earn top marks, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.

White made his comments during a 45-minute conference call to discuss 2014-15 grades for 72 school districts and more than 1,300 public schools.

The distribution of letter grades has remained steady over the past three years.

The virtual freeze was ordered by Louisiana’s top school board to avoid big drops, and angst among educators, during the move to the more challenging Common Core academic standards.

This year, 10 districts got an A rating, 30 got a B, 21 earned a C, nine got a D and there were 2 Fs.

The Zachary School District is the top-rated system for the 11th year in a row.

“We are excited about being the No. 1 district, but you always look at the data,” Superintendent Scott Devillier said Thursday. “You always try to get better.”

This year’s statewide results are nearly identical with the 2013-14 and 2012-13 figures.

However, A-rated schools now only have to average the third of five academic levels — basic — while the new goal will be the fourth of five levels, which is mastery and supposed to ensure that students are fully prepared for the next level of education.

The move to that target begins in 2017.

“I think what we have provided schools is a stable transition period,” White said. “At a certain point, you have to start raising the threshold, and that will, no doubt, pose a challenge for many of our schools.”

He added, “But it is good for our kids. Our results are improving because we are raising the bar.”

The superintendent said it is too early to predict the impact of the new demands.

How that yearly bar-raising works out — often a contentious topic — is still to be decided by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“That is a discussion they will have with principals, superintendents and policymakers,” White said of BESE members.

School and district report cards are based largely on test results.

Grades are allocated on a 150-point scale.

The state average this time is 88.8, which is a B, and down from 89.2 last year.

White said high school gains were a key takeaway from this year’s results.

The graduation rate is 74.6 percent, an all-time high but below the national average.

Also, 62 percent of students scored good or better on end-of-course tests in 2015.

The 10 A-rated school districts included the Ascension, Livingston, St. Tammany, West Feliciana, St. Charles, Central Community Schools and the Orleans Parish school districts.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School District got a C, the same as last year.

State-run schools in East Baton Rouge Parish got an F, down from a D last year.

State-run schools in Orleans Parish — most of the schools there — got a C.

Benjamin Frankin High School is the top-rated public school in the state, followed by the LSU Laboratory School.

The West Feliciana Parish School District, rated third statewide, was one of the few with a lofty ranking that showed improved scores, in this case by six points.

“Like shooting an arrow, our students, parents and employees are always focused on the target, which is student achievement,” West Feliciana Parish School District Superintendent Hollis Milton said in an email.

The letter grades are designed to show parents and others how public schools are performing.

However, critics contend they often misrepresent how schools are faring, and Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards is among those who are skeptical about their value.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.