New performance scores released by state officials Thursday showed that most high schools across Louisiana and the New Orleans area continued to improve this year.

Scores for some schools were missing because of a complication caused by the state’s new Common Core exams. And a shift in the way schools earn points in the state’s accountability system — which partially accounted for the gains — left the department open to renewed criticism over its grading methods.

But the available data showed letter-grade improvements for 15 area high schools in 2015. Five schools had enough growth to earn a spot on the state’s most-improved list.

State Education Superintendent John White dismissed speculation Thursday that scoring changes skewed performance. Although the changes awarded schools up to 10 extra points if their most-struggling students improved, he said, grades would have jumped regardless, thanks to an uptick in ACT exam scores, graduation rates and other outcomes by which schools are judged.

“The formula is 150 points,” White said. “You can only earn 10 points of progress.”

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the change in April, after educators from around the state weighed in, he added.

“It’s evident that all the hard work being done in our districts is paying off for our students,” White said.

Performance scores and the corresponding letter grades have big implications for area schools, especially those in New Orleans. Analysts use them to gauge whether controversial steps taken after Hurricane Katrina were worth it, while parents consult them when deciding which choice, in a sea of options, is best for their child.

The scores also decide whether charter schools live, die or return to their parish school boards and whether conventional schools are subjected to state takeover.

About half of the state’s high schools received A or B letter grades. Only about 8 percent earned an F. In six local parishes — Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. John the Baptist and St. Tammany — 58 percent of high schools got an A or B letter grade, while 10 percent received F’s.

The performance scores assigned to districts as a whole were unavailable Thursday because the state has yet to determine scores for elementary and middle schools that administered Common Core tests. Neither have they computed scores for combination schools, which educate middle and high schoolers and which also administered those tests to students in the lower grades last year.

That makes it impossible to compare districts and means that scores for high-performing, sixth- through 12th-grade schools, such as Patrick F. Taylor for Advanced Studies in Jefferson, were absent Thursday. So were the K-12 Lusher Charter School in New Orleans and St. Charles’ Destrehan and Hahnville high schools.

In charter-dominated New Orleans, only three high schools received failing grades. All are alternative schools, which either accept students who have been expelled elsewhere or actively recruit those who have fallen behind.

Five high schools this year scored high enough to leave the Recovery School District and transfer back to the Orleans Parish School Board, which lost control of most city campuses after Katrina. Two, KIPP Renaissance High and Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, are eligible for the first time this year.

The independent boards that manage charter schools can vote to return when their schools score a 54 or better on the 150-point scale for two consecutive years, as long as they have been in the state-run district for five years.

Officials including Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and a few dozen other educators and lawmakers gathered Thursday at KIPP Renaissance to tout the gains.

“We told people that if you give kids in New Orleans the right infrastructure and the right academic guidance, they would perform as well as kids anywhere in the nation,” Landrieu said.

KIPP Renaissance clocked a big, 35.8-point gain in 2015, earning it the top spot on the state’s most-improved list. Area schools joining KIPP on that list were New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, which saw a 20.2-point gain; Riverdale High in Jefferson, which had a 17.5-point gain; Joseph S. Clark Preparatory School in New Orleans, which saw a 17-point gain; and Sci Academy, which had a 16.5-point gain.

Some improved schools also benefited because they added a senior class for the first time last year, making them newly eligible for certain points under the grading system, White said.

While some schools notched big gains, others held onto their status among the area’s elite campuses. New Orleans’ Benjamin Franklin High School, which has selective admissions, landed an A and a 138.9 on the state’s 150-point scale, better than any other high school in the six-parish area.

Jefferson Parish’s Thomas Jefferson High School, another selective school, was hot on Franklin’s heels, with a 132.5 score and an A rating. Mandeville High School in St. Tammany followed, with a A-rated score of 114.9.

Point-losers included L.B. Landry-O. Perry Walker High School, which dropped from a B to a D and lost 28.3 points, the most of any high school. The state-authorized New Orleans Center for Creative Arts also took a double-digit hit, losing 21.5 points and earning a B rating.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.

School/District2014
Letter Grade
2014 Annual SPS2015
Letter Grade
2015 Annual SPSPoint change
BESE charters
New Orleans Military/Maritime AcademyC83.0A103.220.2
International High School of New OrleansC83.6B85.62.0
Jefferson Parish
Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced StudiesA131.1A132.51.4
Riverdale High SchoolB86.8A104.317.5
East Jefferson High SchoolC75.2B86.110.9
Helen Cox High SchoolC76.7B9013.3
John Ehret High SchoolC70.1C80.510.4
Grace King High SchoolB87.4C78.8-8.6
Bonnabel Magnet Academy High SchoolC72.0D69.8-2.2
L.W. Higgins High SchoolD67.4D69.52.1
West Jefferson High SchoolD59.3D61.42.1
Jefferson Chamber Foundation AcademyF40.0F46.56.5
Legislature authorized
New Orleans Center for Creative ArtsA120.4B98.9-21.5
Orleans Parish
Benjamin Franklin High SchoolA140.1A138.9-1.2
Edna Karr High SchoolB96.7A111.114.4
Warren Easton Senior High SchoolB96.2A109.213.0
New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics HSB94.3B98.64.3
McDonogh #35 College Preparatory SchoolC79.4C70.2-9.2
Recovery School District
KIPP Renaissance High SchoolD61.0B96.835.8
Sci AcademyC79.8B96.316.5
Lake Area New Tech Early College High SchoolD64.5C79.414.9
G. W. Carver Collegiate AcademyC70.6C73.63.0
Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High SchoolF45.4D62.417.0
Lord Beaconsfield Landry-Oliver Perry Walker HighB89.7D61.4-28.3
G. W. Carver Preparatory AcademyC80.6D59.1-21.5
Algiers Technology AcademyD51.7D54.52.8
ReNEW Accelerated High School City Park CampusF16.4F29.212.8
The NET Charter High SchoolF22.2F25.73.5
ReNEW Accelerated High School West Bank CampusF21.9F18.9-3.0
Plaquemines Parish
Belle Chasse High SchoolB96.5A101.55.0
St. Bernard Parish
Chalmette High SchoolB93.7A101.88.1
St. John the Baptist Parish
East St. John High SchoolC75.8C76.91.1
St. Tammany Parish
Mandeville High SchoolA110.1A114.94.8
Fontainebleau High SchoolA102.0A11311.0
Northshore High SchoolA102.2A109.16.9
Lakeshore High SchoolA100.6A104.64.0
Slidell High SchoolB89.8B97.77.9
Pearl River High SchoolB89.1B91.42.3
Covington High SchoolC84.1B88.24.1
Salmen High SchoolC74.7B85.110.4