School performance scores — a measure of public school quality that combines test results and dropout rates — remained relatively steady across the New Orleans area this year, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.
In part, that’s by design. The latest results come as Louisiana is making a controversial transition to new academic standards known as the Common Core. New tests aligned with those standards have caused big declines in pass rates for other states.
But Louisiana has taken a go-slow approach. For one thing, Louisiana’s tests haven’t actually gotten more difficult. The questions are tougher, but students generally need fewer correct answers to pass.
The state Department of Education is also basically grading schools on a curve this year and next, holding the distribution of letter grades — A, B, C, D and F — steady from one year to the next. Individual schools and districts still saw their letter grades rise or fall, but the overall percentage of schools assigned a particular grade did not change.
“There’s sort of a safety net in this process,” said state Education Superintendent John White, though he added that only 21 of 1,335 schools in Louisiana — about 1.6 percent — actually saw their letter grade bumped up by the adjustment.
The real lifting of the bar in Louisiana won’t begin until 2016. That’s when it will start to get harder and harder for a school to maintain any particular letter grade. Since the late 1990s, Louisiana has set the bar for a passing grade on standardized exams at “basic,” or level 3 on a five-point scale. Any school with all of its students scoring that well would earn an A. Now the state plans to gradually lift the bar to “mastery,” or level 4.
In the meantime, performance scores in Louisiana haven’t budged much. The statewide performance score inched up from 88.5 to 89.2 on a 150-point scale, amounting to a B letter grade.
The latest results were not precisely comparable with prior years because officials have tweaked they way they hand out bonus points for schools that make extra progress with students who start the year below grade level. More schools received points this year, but White said they got fewer points each on average.
Still, in Orleans Parish, the overall performance score remained exactly 83.4, a C. The Orleans Parish School Board, which kept a small number of relatively high-performing schools after the state takeover that followed Hurricane Katrina, saw its performance score climb a point to 109.2. It remains an A-rated district.
But schools in the state-run Recovery School District saw test scores stall after years of steady growth. Scores released in the spring showed the same percentage of students passing the tests as the year before. The district’s performance score slipped almost a point, leaving it with a C.
In Jefferson Parish, where heated School Board races have put a spotlight on recent improvement efforts, the overall performance score edged up 1.3 points to 87.2, giving the parish a B.
St. Tammany Parish, which has one of the best-rated districts in the state, remained in A territory, climbing a point to 109.2.
St. Charles Parish also kept its A rating, while St. John the Baptist Parish remained a C, despite modest growth.
Plaquemines Parish saw the biggest jump in performance, climbing nearly 10 points on the state’s 150-point scale and becoming an A-rated district, while St. Bernard Parish slipped almost two points, going from an A to a B.