Amid new rigor, Louisiana’s A-rated public schools are falling, and those with F’s on the rise; here’s why

In the first report cards since standards were toughened, Louisiana’s share of A-rated public schools slipped while those with F’s went up, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

In addition, officials in nearly 40 percent of schools statewide have been ordered to submit plans for sweeping overhauls or urgent intervention.

The announcement marks the first unveiling of school performance marks since the state revamped how schools are rated, in part to answer criticism that Louisiana has long soft-pedaled how classrooms are faring.

Under the new rating system, 13 percent of schools earned A ratings compared to 20 percent under the previous measuring stick. Those with F-ratings rose from 8 percent to 12 percent.

State Superintendent of Education John White downplayed the notion that school grades are in any kind of free-fall.

White said the overall distribution of grades is roughly the same as 2017, and that the percentage of D and F-rated schools is the same this year as last – 26 percent.

The state’s school performance score – the basis for the letter grades – is 76.1 of 150. Under the earlier formula it would have been 93. Both are classified as B’s.

Test scores are placed in one of five categories: advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.

The state’s previous standard was basic.

Under the new rules, schools by 2025 will have to average mastery, and meet other criteria, to win an A-rating.

Backers contend the new rigor will make students more competitive with those nationwide.

“This enhanced performance data provides a more accurate snapshot of where we truly stand,” Gary Jones, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in a written statement that accompanied the scores.

White told reporters, “It is a more nuanced, more comprehensive way of viewing schools than ever before.”

Under a law approved earlier this year, the state is issuing school and district grades for both the new and old systems.

That requirement stems from concerns, including by superintendents, that this year’s drop in school performance would spark anger and questions among parents and other taxpayers.

The drop in scores is especially evident among students from kindergarten through 8th grade.

Under the old formula, 179 would have earned an A – 18.3 percent – compared to the 81 that did so under the new scoring system – 8.3 percent.

The number of F-rated schools rose from 65 using the old formula to 117 with the new rating system.

Louisiana has long ranked near the bottom nationally in public school achievement.

Issuing annual public school letter grades was aimed in part at identifying the problem, and using an easily understood rating system to do so.

The first round of grades in 2011 showed 44 percent were rated D or F, which lead to sweeping public school changes in 2012.

Critics have long called the grades misleading.

The issuance of two letter grades is the second time in recent years that state officials have tried to soften the blow when grades are sure to drop.

Schools were rated on a curve starting in 2014 amid the move to Common Core, which changed standards for reading, writing and math.

The curve, which was supposed to last for two years, was instead used four times amid pleas from superintendents and others.

In a move that eases the impact of this year’s changes, schools earn points through two options measuring annual student progress.

They can do so if students meet yearly targets for achieving mastery or outpace their peers.

The state also announced that 502 public schools need drastic action – 38 percent of Louisiana’s 1,320 schools.

A total of 276 will have to submit plans to the state on how they plan to overhaul their schools.

That requirement stems from schools being rated D or F for three years or other problems.

Another 226 will have to spell out how local officials plan to improve education for, among others, African American students, those with disabilities and those from low-income homes.

Those schools are cited either because clusters of students – called subgroups – have performed at F-levels for two years or because the out-of-school suspension rate was more than double the national average for three years.

Identifying struggling schools stems from Louisiana’s plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

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