Lots of school superintendents are nervously awaiting Louisiana’s first-ever letter grades for about 1,300 public schools.
In East Baton Rouge Parish schools, news about the upcoming grades has been sent home with students through monthly newsletters.
Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol said her district has put together information for principals to relay to parents.
Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community School District, said some families will be caught off guard.
“Here you have parents, students have been going to school, been involved, and the grades come out and boom,” Faulk said.
Central’s five schools are expected to fare better than most.
But leaders of many other school districts are anxious because state officials said in June that 46 percent of the state’s nearly 1,300 public schools would get a “D” or an “F” if the grades were in effect then.
Local school leaders say they expect to get the grades from the state as early as Oct. 3.
Exactly when those results will be announced to taxpayers is unclear.
Rene Greer, director of communications for the state Department of Education, said the grades should be made public by mid-October.
The grades are already a hot topic among superintendents, said Faulk, who is president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
The new ratings stem from a 2010 state law.
Grades are linked to annual school performance scores, which mostly reflect how students fared on key tests.
The idea is that traditional letter grades will mean more to parents on how schools are faring than the current rating system, which uses stars and labels.
“This is about transparency,” said Chas Roemer, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE.
Roemer played a key role in crafting the grading scale adopted by the board in December.
“It is about giving parents relevant information that they can understand,” he said.
The grading scale endorsed by BESE is tougher than the one pushed by superintendents, and it still rankles some school leaders.
“The only thing it is going to do is damage the image of public education and cause the loss of parental support at a time when progress is being made,” said Livingston Parish School System Superintendent Bill Spear.
The Livingston Parish School District, which includes 43 schools, is regularly ranked in the top 10 statewide.
Some of the schools are likely to get lower than expected marks.
“When the letter grades come out I think there will be some disappointment among community members who don’t understand how they grade,” Spear said.
John Dilworth, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, was out of town because of a death in his family.
Chris Trahan, spokesman for the district, said Lizabeth Frischhertz, chief officer for accountability, assessment and evaluation, began meeting with assistant superintendents and principals in the summer to prepare for the release of grades.
District officials are also doing projections on how individual schools will fare to avoid surprises, Trahan said.
The district has 85 school sites.
The fact that school grades are coming was also conveyed at open houses when school began last month, he said.
Pujol said she is sticking by earlier predictions that, of 27 schools in Ascension Parish, four will earn “A’s,” one an “F” and “some of every kind in between.”
“I don’t think by and large parents are aware,” she said of the fact that grades are coming.
The state’s grading system allows schools to earn a “plus” if they meet their annual school improvement targets and a “minus” if they fail to do so.
Faulk said he expects Central’s five schools to get one “A plus,” three “B’s” or “B pluses” and one “C plus.”
“I feel good about where our district stands,” he said.
West Baton Rouge Parish School District’s 10 schools will get “mostly C’s but a few D’s,” Superintendent David Corona said.
“We will communicate with parents once we have grades to communicate,” Corona said.
West Feliciana School System Superintendent Hollis Milton said he expects one of his four schools to get an “A plus” and the other three to get at least “Bs.”
Milton’s schools are among the top rated in Louisiana.
“The good thing about our district is we are a really good district, but we always have a sense of urgency about getting better,” he said.
“With letter grades I don’t see that changing,” Milton said.