When Louisiana released its latest school performance scores on Nov. 7, a total of 124 schools had both their numerical scores and their letter grades waived.
The waivers, which covered almost 10 percent of the public schools in the state, allowed these schools to either keep their previous, higher scores, or, in the case of 42 schools in Livingston Parish, receive no score at all. These waivers were given in response to the historic August 2016 floods and the consequent disruption to instruction at flood-affected schools.
The waivers didn’t stop there. In the case of the public school districts in East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes, two of the hardest hit, the state agreed to waive not just all their individual school scores but also their overall results, known as district performance scores.
In the flood-affected City of Baker public school district, like East Baton Rouge and Livingston, all of its individual schools received waivers: Bakerfield, Baker Heights and Park Ridge elementaries, as well as Baker Middle and Baker High schools.
But the Baker district itself didn't get a waiver, receiving a fresh performance score as if the flood had never happened. That district score is a reflection of all of the schools' individual scores, which are based on various exams, as well as dropout and graduation rates and other factors.
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Baker’s new district performance score for the 2016-17 school year dropped the suburban Baton Rouge school district by 9.2 points. While its letter grade remained a D despite the big decline, Baker’s poor showing lowered it to second-to-last in Louisiana, tying it with City of Bogalusa public schools.
Why Baker was treated differently from its neighboring school districts is complicated.
“I can’t make any sense of it,” said Baker Superintendent Herman Brister Sr.
Brister, however, said he’s not planning to challenge the waiver discrepancy, noting that Baker has a lot of improving to do regardless.
“It’s something I’m not losing a whole lot of sleep over,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to perform.”
When asked why Baker’s district score was not also waived as its individual school scores were, Superintendent John White replied, “It’s in accordance with the policy BESE passed.”
White was referring to an Oct. 18 action taken by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
On that day, BESE took up a request to grant East Baton Rouge Parish a district-wide flood waiver just as it had earlier issued such a waiver to Livingston Parish schools. Instead, BESE issued a special, slightly different waiver.
The state school board agreed that flood-impacted public schools across Louisiana would be awarded either their 2015-16 or their 2016-17 school performance scores, whichever one was higher. And BESE added this sentence: “This policy shall also apply to all schools within the East Baton Rouge Parish system.”
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The new policy mentions only “school performances scores,” saying nothing about district performance scores. Nevertheless, the Louisiana Department of Education decided that it made sense, given the wording, to apply the waiver to East Baton Rouge Parish’s district performance score in addition to all their individual schools’ scores.
But as the state calculated which individual schools qualified for the new flood waiver, it became clear that all five schools in Baker would also qualify for the waiver.
State officials, however, say the fact that East Baton Rouge was named specifically in the policy, while Baker was not, won the day. Consequently, East Baton Rouge Parish stayed flat academically as a district while Baker dropped.
“The aforementioned policy applied to the EBR district score because BESE explicitly said the policy should apply to all of EBR,” explained Syndi Dunn, a spokeswoman for the state agency. “They did not say that about Baker.”