State officials released fresh evidence Wednesday that efforts to lift results at public schools in New Orleans have stalled, with high school test scores level or lower this year compared with last.

The average score on the ACT, an important gauge of college readiness, remained at 18.9 on a 36-point scale for the second year in a row.

That compares with 19.6 statewide, which was up a tenth of a point over last year's results. This year's national average hasn't been published, but it stood at 20.8 in 2016. 

The percentage of high school students scoring “good” or “excellent” on Louisiana’s end-of-course exams, which measure progress in specific subjects, actually declined sharply in New Orleans, falling to 52 percent from 58 percent. The state average also slipped, down to 61 percent from 62 percent.

ACT scores around the metro area were mixed, though St. Tammany Parish came in at the top of the state rankings for the third year in a row, improving by almost half a point to an average of 22. 

Test scores and graduation rates have generally been climbing in Orleans Parish since Hurricane Katrina, when the state began its controversial push to turn city schools over to independent charter groups, which are publicly funded but privately run. 

In the past couple of years, however, the progress has slowed to a halt. Test scores in both the lower and upper grades, as well as high school graduation rates, have stopped climbing or even declined slightly.

In the meantime, the way the city’s schools are governed is undergoing a major overhaul. The numerous schools that were taken over by the state in 2005 and have been under the state’s Recovery School District are scheduled to come back under the Orleans Parish School Board next July.

OPSB Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. will have major challenges to confront when that transition happens. Most public schools in the city have been lifted out of the “failing” category, but many remain rated a D or a C.

In an interview Wednesday, Lewis pointed to some bright spots in the numbers. For instance, while the average ACT score did not budge this year, the percentage of students scoring better than an 18, which is considered an important benchmark, climbed by one point. 

Still, he conceded, “We are nowhere near where we need to be. We know it’s on us as a school district.”

RSD Superintendent Kunjan Narechania released a statement calling for a "new strategy" to make sure the school system keeps improving. 

She said the local school board should focus on identifying new charter school operators; grooming recruits to run them and sit on their charter boards; finding a stable source of funding for pre-K education, a longstanding goal; bringing in nonprofits and private companies to develop career opportunities for students; and developing new programs for students with the most severe behavior problems, who often have serious mental health needs.   

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