With the onset of Common Core testing in Louisiana this year, the state’s public schools began a hard uphill battle. Every year for the next decade, state officials will raise the bar until schools are required to get students scoring at mastery on the exams, instead of basic.
And this week, schools around the state learned just how far they will have to climb.
Test results show that only about one-third of the state’s students reached or exceeded the state’s desired mastery target, the second-highest of five proficiency levels.
In New Orleans, only about a fifth of Recovery School District students met the new target. Separately, more than half of Orleans Parish School Board students did, figures that showcase the academic divide between the two systems. Collectively, fewer than a third of the city’s students met the mark.
The Orleans School Board, St. Charles, St. Tammany and Plaquemines systems all made a list of high performers statewide.
The state is pushing mastery because basic just won’t cut it on national assessments and college entrance exams, state officials contend. “While we should be proud of our progress in getting more students to basic, we should recognize that basic can represent a false promise of readiness,” department officials said in a Thursday presentation.
The mastery standard will take hold by 2025. This spring was the first time third- through eighth-graders took exams fully aligned to the Common Core, new academic standards for reading, writing and mathematics.
Louisiana educators have been preparing for such a test since 2010, when the state’s top education board adopted the new standards.
How tests affect scores
The test results determine all-important performance scores for elementary schools, which are due this December. High school performance scores remain unaffected by the Common Core and will be out later this month. Performance scores dictate whether independent charter schools stay open and whether conventional schools are subjected to state takeover.
For elementary schools, the new scores will come after many tweaks.
First, the department must account for the absences of about 4,400 students who boycotted exams in March and May, an opt-out movement heavily felt in four of the state’s school systems. Officials will craft a plan to avoid unfair penalization or rewards for schools with high opt-out rates and will present it to the state’s top education board in December. They will later assign scores based on the number of students hitting basic, mastery and advanced, the highest proficiency level.
Such scores will be based on a 2-year-old index, used before the tougher Common Core tests were administered. But they will dole out the accompanying letter grades on a curve — meaning that the percentages of A, B, C, D or F schools this year will be the same as they were in 2013.
All of this should not affect Recovery School District charter schools’ eligibility to return to the parish school board, state Education Department spokesman Barry Landry said. The needed performance score — 4 points higher than the failing bar — remains the same. Many charter school boards must make that decision by Dec. 1.
Neither should it affect teachers’ ability to set student learning targets or be judged on whether students meet those targets. The state’s controversial program to use test scores in evaluating teachers will remain on hold until after this school year.
School district progress
St. Charles Parish public schools, with 49 percent of students scoring at mastery or better, were ranked fourth in the state. St. Tammany and Plaquemines parishes followed, with 47 and 46 percent of students, respectively, hitting that goal.
Elsewhere in the metro area, the scores were lower. In St. Bernard, 39 percent of students mastered content; in Jefferson Parish, 33 percent of students did so; and in St. John, 29 percent of children achieved mastery. When the Recovery School District’s and Orleans Parish School Board’s scores are combined, about 28 percent of New Orleans students achieved the mastery or above designation.
While comparisons of raw scores are difficult because tests are different, it is possible to compare districts’ positions relative to one another in the state’s percentile rankings, department officials said.
Jefferson Parish had the largest drop — from the 73rd percentile in 2014 to the 65th. The system welcomed a new superintendent in May. Orleans Parish, in the 97th percentile, stayed the same, while the Recovery School District’s schools crept up from the 16th to 22nd percentile. St. Charles’s 96th percentile also was unchanged, while St. Tammany climbed slightly, from 90th to 93rd. Plaquemines dipped from 93rd to 92nd, while St. John shot up from 30th to 44th.
A look at New Orleans-area fourth- and eighth-grade results showed scores across the spectrum, with longtime high performers doing well, as expected. Fourth and eighth grades long have been considered “high stakes,” though state officials said they will not penalize students for low scores this year.
Jefferson Parish’s advanced-study academies outdid all other schools in the area, with almost all of their students mastering content. In both English and math, Airline Park Academy for Advanced Studies, Gretna No. 2 Academy for Advanced Studies, Marrero Academy for Advanced Studies and Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies were tops in fourth grade.
At those schools, students work a grade level above the average child. Applicants must pass an admissions test to get in.
In eighth-grade English, Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy in Avondale (another Jefferson academy), Lake Forest Elementary Charter School in New Orleans and Lusher Charter School in New Orleans were the top three scorers. Taylor and two other Jefferson advanced-study academies — Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies and L.W. Ruppel Academy for Advanced Studies — rose to the top in eighth-grade math scores.
Some RSD schools struggled to reach mastery, with only a few fourth-graders doing so at Andrew Wilson Charter, Medard H. Nelson Elementary and Esperanza Charter in math. In English, Nelson again had trouble, as did McDonogh No. 32 Elementary and William J. Fischer Elementary.
Eighth-graders rarely hit the mark in English or math at three alternative schools in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. Alternative schools educate students who might otherwise drop out.
The New Orleans results prove the city’s schools are progressing but still have headway to make, Orleans Parish schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. and Recovery School District Superintendent Patrick Dobard said in a joint statement.
“We are immensely proud of the hard work of our schools and students, who have eagerly embraced the increased academic expectations that come with the implementation of Common Core,” they said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.