Launched Department of Education releases performance scores

Eighty-five public schools out of 1,272 in Louisiana have been labeled “academically unacceptable” while 10 schools achieved the top five-star rating in performance scores released by state education officials Friday.

The Department of Education also ranked districts as well as individual schools. The Zachary Community School District had the highest district score with a 112.6.

Lowest was the Recovery School District, the state entity that took over failing New Orleans public schools after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. That district earned a 51.4 score and about 20 of the failing, or “academically unacceptable” schools are in that district.

However, a reform group called “Educate Now!” noted significant improvements in the city’s schools.

The group said 63 percent of the city’s students were in failing schools before Katrina. That number is now down to 41 percent, based on scores of schools that have been opened since 2006. Some schools opened in 2007 and won’t have accountability scores until next year.

Test results released in May showed that scores among Recovery District fourth-graders on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test given last spring increased by 12 percentage points compared to 2007. Scores for eighth-graders rose 4 percentage points.

“We still have a long way to go, but New Orleans public schools today are better overall than they were before Katrina,” said Leslie Jacobs, an architect of the school accountability program. “That is impressive considering the Katrina-related stress and challenges.”

Jacobs is a former member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and helped develop the program starting in the late ‘90s under former Gov. Mike Foster. Foster had made improvement of the state’s school system a priority of his administration as the state lagged behind much of the nation in several areas, from teacher pay to peformance on standardized tests.

Many New Orleans teachers were thrilled by the news with some of them saying that it helped to make up for the bad reputation that Louisiana and New Orleans in particular had grown over the past decade.

“We always knew that with the proper leadership and drive and determination that we could get our system fixed,” said Higgins principal Elvie White.

The Department of Education said the school and district performance scores released Friday show significant improvement statewide under the accountability program, which looks at individual student performance on high-stakes tests from third grade until 11th grade. Attendance rates and dropout rates are also scrutinized.

The department said only 110 schools, or 9 percent of 1,118 schools, received a score above 100 in the 1998-1999 school year, the first year the accountability system was implemented.

In the latest scores, 301 schools or 23 percent of 1,263 schools reached the 100 mark. In 1999, 388 or 32.7 percent of the state’s schools received a score below 60. “Today, that number has been reduced to 90 schools or 7.1 percent,” the state department’s news release said.

Individual school scores released Friday did not contain schools from Jefferson Parish. Those scores are being recalculated amid disagreement between state Education Superintendent Paul Pastorek and the Jefferson system. It involves the attributing of scores earned by students attending magnet schools, often higher performing schools, to other schools in the district. A state policy does allow such “rerouting” of scores from one school to another in some cases, but Pastorek believes Jefferson was not applying that policy correctly, department spokeswoman Rene Greer said.

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