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Lycée Français community squabbles anew, this time over adding out-of-sequence grades

Lycée Français de la Nouvelle-Orléans is once again the center of controversy over school policy and a factional dispute between two groups of parents. At issue: adding an additional grade level in 2015-16.

The French-immersion school has been planning to add one grade per year as students advance. The sixth grade would be added separately, requiring an enrollment of students already proficient in French.

At a facilities committee meeting on April 31, parents sounded off on both sides of the issue. Supporters claim the school has an obligation to follow its charter, while opponents claim the grade was added due to cronyism between certain individual parents and members of school’s founding board who have since resigned due to prior controversies at the school.

At issue is the organization’s plan for a high school that draws students from other French language programs, such as International School of Louisiana, Audubon, or Ecole Bilingue.

Filling a sixth grade from the city’s small pool of French-proficient students could antagonize those schools and ultimately reduce the high school transfers envisioned in Lycée’s charter, some board members fear.

In an emotional public comment, founding board member Joy van Buskirk voiced this view. She acknowledged that she yielded to pressure from other board members in voting to add out-of-sequence grades to the charter.

The grade levels in question were a second grade that was added in 2012-13, and the planned sixth grade in 2015-16, van Buskirk said. Parents close to certain board members wanted to move their individual children to the school at specific times, and she acceded after first resisting the maneuvers, she said.

“I think that what we did was wrong,” she said. She also expressed concern about the wisdom of  “raiding” students from other French-immersion programs.

Committee member and PTO president Mary Dwyer offered a contrary view. She said that the addition of a sixth grade in 2015-16 would beef up the middle school ahead of the high school launch.

“There’s a community out there that’s hanging on the promise of our charter,” Dwyer said.

After the 15-minute public comment period ended, Dwyer read and described two additional public comment emails from parents who supported her position.

However, at the board’s public meeting on April 21, members had stated publicly that there was no plan to add a sixth grade in 2015-16.

Committee member Mary Jacobs Jones explained the inconsistency by saying that the board had been unaware of the plan to add both a sixth and a fifth grade in the same year. She said the board had previously kicked the can down the road on that issue while dealing with more pressing issues, such as the search for a new building.

A second grade (comprised of students now in third grade) was successfully added out of sequence in 2012-13.

The Lens has requested results of any comprehensive tests to evaluate the academic performance of that student pool.  Board chair Tim Gray, who handles public information requests for the school, said that the only comprehensive test taken was the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and that the school had not been provided any info on how the class had performed as a whole.

However, Riverside Publishing, which publishes the Iowa Test, provides a comprehensive report to the school along with scores. If the school elects to score its own test, the company provides a “Norms and Scores Conversion Guide” which shows the school how to create its own comprehensive report based on the individual tests. Gray said the school never received a report.*

Louisiana law says such records are to be provided immediately to the public upon request, or within three days if for some reason the records are not in the school’s immediate possession. The report, provided two weeks after the initial request, contained one number: 50.85 percent, the class’ overall performance.

The school subsequently provided the class’ rankings broken down by subject:

  • Reading:  57 percent
  • Language:  46.1 percent
  • Mathematics:   50.5 percent

The school declined to provide individual test scores, saying that they might somehow be used to identify individual students.

State law puts the burden on a school to prove why a record should not be made public. Gray cited the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act but could not cite any specific sections of the law that preclude release of the requested information.

Asked what section said that testing numbers could be considered private, protected information, Gray conceded that there is no “bright blue line” in the act which supports his position. The federal act describes how to redact personal identifiers from student information so it can be provided to requesters, and does not forbid the release of any documents or data.

*Correction: This story incorrectly stated that Gray said the school hadn’t received a “Norms and Scores Conversion Guide”; he said the school hadn’t received a comprehensive report. (May 23, 2014)

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  • frenchfriend

    Mary Dwyer should recuse herself from this discussion, as she has a child that is age eligible for that proposed “out of order” sixth grade. I would say this is a conflict of interest. The board is correct, relationships with the other schools is paramount. I don’t see how they will have enough students to support a high school if they don’t gain the trust of the other Immersion and French schools in the city.

  • Ailuri

    A few questions:
    1- Does anyone know what the estimates are for pulling in kids for a 2015/16 6th grade? Is there reason to believe that there are enough kids fluent in French who would switch schools to actually reasonably support a class?
    Are we talking about a 6th grade class of 35 kids..or a 6th grade class of 5 kids?
    (and in terms of “poaching” – how big are the classes at Audubon and ISL that would potentially provide these students- would LFNO be poaching 2% of those classes’ kids or 50% if a 6th grade starts out of sequence? This makes a difference in how well LFNO gets along with the other French schools in the city- the schools that will be producing the 8th grade graduates LFNO hopes to bring into the future high school…)
    It seems like this would make a big difference in whether it is a viable idea. It also seems like determining whether it is viable is necessary before even beginning the argument about whether or not it should be done.

    2- Are the ITBS scores the ones that will be used to assign a letter grade to LFNO next fall? Or are the kids taking other standardized tests, too? (Or does something else go into the letter grade too?)
    I’m fairly clueless as to how the letter grades actually correspond to test scores and am wondering what the numbers mean in a practical (well, as practical as assigning confusing where-do-they-come-from letter grades to schools can be) way.

  • Nola

    I am pretty sure the 6th grade classes at the other schools are pretty small. So any losses will very much effect their programs financially and educationally, as those children cannot be replaced. But, lets add a couple more questions to your list.
    Should tax payers really be paying for several very small language immersion classes in several different schools (more teachers for less children) just support this idea of competition and to help a handful of parents with questionable intentions at LFNO?
    Should the other children at LFNO suffer with less financial resources just to facilitate the questionable motives of a few parents. Don’t forget the money for one teacher for only 7 or 8 students has to come from somewhere. It will come out of the other classrooms.
    Anyone can say they are going to bring their child from other schools. However, they may not show up. If that happens, what does LFNO do with the classroom (if they can find one) and teacher for which they have budgeted?
    This is not only a self serving goal of a handful of people. The others parents semi supporting this early expansion need to realize their own younger children and the financial viability of the school will be threatened along with any hope for productive relationships with the schools they hope to court for highschool later on.

  • nickelndime

    Mary Mary quite contrary. Joy is a founding member. She doesn’t owe anybody anything and doesn’t have anything to lose by speaking the truth. She appears to be consistent and honorable. I cannot say the same for this Lycée Board. Does Adams @ Reese, LLP remain as counsel for this board? Because if Lee Cash Reid is still around, it would go a long way into explaining some of the testing explanations, or rather the mis explanations, that are spewing out of Gray’s mouth.

  • C.w. Cannon

    I don’t think International School of Louisiana would ever have more than 50 students in their French language track. Due to natural attrition, the number is usually closer to 35-40 by 5th grade, I think I can’t imagine why the majority of them would want to leave their World Language Immersion certified, A-rated school for an untested middle school at LFNO. I can understand that LFNO might want to recruit students who have earned not only stellar scores on their state standardized assessments, but have also earned their DELF (Diplôme d’études en langue française) at the A2 level. But why leave a school that provides subject specialists, native Francophone teachers and the ability to also study Chinese? International School of Louisiana also has a charter that extends through high school. The reason ISL did not continue into high school in the 2009-2010 school year is that they wisely realized that with their small class sizes they could not support a high school. Instead, the board made the wise, but difficult choice to not continue on, opting instead to build from the bottom up, expanding their elementary options so that they could at some point in the future have enough students for a viable high school. LFNO should not build a middle school or high school program on the assumption that it will be filled by students from International School of Louisiana, Audubon, Hynes, Ecole Bilingue, or any of the Jefferson Parish French immersion programs.

  • nickelndime

    I would love to see those individual test protocols from the insider Lycée testing! Gray says Lycée never received guidance from the test company. Ha! Can you imagine what this group can do with a norm manual? Am falling off the chair…

  • Michael Pinkerton

    It’s pretty rich, The Lens, to characterize this facility committee’s civil debate over the mere timing of a sixth grade as a squabble. It’s not a big noisy quarrel like the ones we had last year. We are going to have a sixth grade in either 2016-2017 (per a charter amendment) or, heaven forbid, 2015-2016 (per the actual charter contract signed years ago). The parents who are affected are naturally going to be vocal about their preference to stay the course, and others will have other views. That’s open and honest debate, The Lens, not a squabble.

  • nickelndime

    LYCEE: Well, it appears that at least one reader is differentiating between the written charter (which would be of paramount significance to charter school founders who have/had a vision) and a charter contract. From what I can tell, many nonprofit charter boards rely solely on what their attorneys tell them, and most of these highly-paid firms will not openly admit the difference (unless caught by a knowledgeable individual or a group in public) between the written charter and signed charter contract. IOW, written charters undergo changes without the benefit of amendments, and the most serious offenses appear to occur locally (e.g., with the OPSB as the charter authorizer). Now, this does not make the OPSB dirtier than the RSD/State/BESE because the two entities appear to be running neck and neck. But, getting back to the administration, test security, hand scoring, and norming of the ITBS. What about erasures, possible mis-scoring, mis-norming, administration errors, etc. ? Would somebody please advise Mr. Gray of what redacting (public records) is? This may not be equivalent to LEAP or iLEAP, but these tests are being paid for with public money, are being administered to public charter school students, and admission/enrollment decisions are being made based on the results, and what I am hearing is that Mr. Gray is playing “monkey”: See NOTHING; Say NOTHING; Hear NOTHING; Know NOTHING; Do NOTHING. The public is already desensitized and apathetic enough, and that’s not counting the illiteracy rate in this city and state (and that, my friend, is why French is being taught !!) – to give all of the students (particularly the at-risk population on which State Charter School Law is based) the opportunity to speak fluent French and become globally competitive. Now, if they could only get in (admitted, enrolled) the damned school.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    I felt compelled to raise an issue after reading this article. It is extraordinarily important to have the second grade IOWA test scores released. Those scores will determine if adding a class of non Lycee Francais educated children was appropriate for the school. From the little information that I gleaned, it appears that the test scores were not optimal. However, statistical data must be shared to understand the factual test results. It is required by law to release the test scores, as LFNO is a public school paid for by taxpayer dollars. I can only conclude that the school leadership has deliberately kept the results from the public for reasons yet known. That is disturbing.

    All LFNO parents should demand an accounting of the second grade test scores. If they are as abysmal, as I believe, should additional grades be added out of sequence? The school cannot account for a child’s education foundation when he or she is slipped into a program to accommodate some parents whose children are marking time in other schools to enter Lycee. The quality of the program offered by the school, and its reputation is paramount. More importantly, this is about all of the children attending LFNO, not a few. Test score results provide for the viability of a school program, and its success.

    I made a bad decision in acceding to the demands of the founding parents in adding out of sequence grades to accommodate their children. This was done five days before the application deadline. I knew better, but I, along with four others, had labored many months on this charter, and frankly, I did not want to see that work cast aside. I could have pulled the plug on this charter, as two teachers are required by law to be involved in its creation and submission. I should have walked away, and deeply regret that moment of weakness. However, that is water over the dam.

    Now, it is up to the school leadership and the parents to do what is right for all of the children attending LFNO.
    It is my belief that the arbitrary addition of the second grade, and its test results, sends a clear message to
    any with common sense that “willy nilly” class additions might not be in the best interest of the school and its students. Needless to say, raiding other schools for students to add “out of sequence grades” does not endear Lycee to “sister” charter schools, and provides for a bad community school reputation, and image.

    There is nothing I can do at this point, but say that the charter developers envisioned creating a French School that offered the hope of a school of excellence for the children of New Orleans. We thought that to be a noble vision. It is my HOPE that Lycee will be that school, but the right decisions must be made to achieve that outcome.

  • nickelndime

    LYCÉE: More attention should be given to the ponderings, issues, and statements of the founders of charter schools. They had the vision. They did the work without pay. What we have going on now in this city is people jumping on moving trains after some people got bloodied going through the brick wall first! Expensive legal fees, hidden agendas, sacrificing the whole for the conflicted interests of a few…on and on and on. This is public school! Public schools are paid for with public funds. Open the blasted test data up and redact whatever the hell needs to be redacted.

  • frenchfriend

    Are these the test scores from the current second grade? Or, are these scores from last year, when the current third grade ( the added out of order class) was in second grade? There should be two sets of scores by now. Why has only one been reported to the lens? Where are last year’s scores? Joyous something again is not right and very disturbing. The current second grade is not the poached class, so I ask the question, whose scores are these?

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    Sorry for not responding. Have been on the road. I am referring to last year’s second grade -
    the class that was added out of sequence. This year’s second grade should have also been
    tested, and its scores revealed.

  • Joy Van Buskirk

    i have heard, from a reliable source, that an individual from SDE was sent to LFNO to mail the IOWA test scores to the parents – of the added out of sequence second graders – a year ago, June. Most parents did not understand what the scores meant. No explanation was included.

  • frenchfriend

    The big question is why were these scores kept from the public and the school not given a letter grade like all the other public schools? Something does not pass the smell test.

  • frenchfriend

    The debate is not honest when Mary dwyer sits on the facilities committee.

  • nickelndime

    LYCÉE: The “school” didn’t receive a comprehensive report because the “school” HAND SCORED the tests! Actually, none of this passes the “smell test,” and I don’t need a conversion manual to figure that out!

  • Ailuri

    The letter grades haven’t come out yet this year (2013-14), right? For any of the schools…
    Lycee shouldn’t have a letter grade yet because this is the first year they have a third grade- none of the schools use 2nd grade or lower grades’ scores.
    They should get a letter grade this summer/next fall based on their 2013-2014 third grade class scores.
    The only letter grades currently available for any school are for third grade and up from the 2012-13 school year and previous years. Lycee didnt have third grade any of those years.
    That said- they should release the scores and scoring info for all standardized testing done thus far to parents and to public record as required. (Whether they were used in assigning a letter grade or not)
    Also- I’m still confused as to which tests the kids who are in third grade this year took. Aren’t they supposed to take the LEAP? That seems to be the test that the letter grades are based off for other schools- but I’m unclear as to whether LFNO third graders took it or not. All I see is that the second graders both this year and last year (who aren’t included in the letter grade scoring) took the Iowa test (which isn’t LEAP)…
    This should not be this confusing…

  • Michael Pinkerton

    Well it is, and plus she even uses her real name

  • nickelndime

    LYCÉE: The 3rd graders should have taken the iLEAP, and there won’t be any HAND SCORING of that by “the school.” If LYCÉE is administering the IOWA to 2nd graders, what other grades are being tested and with what instrument?

  • Ailuri

    Well…it looks like LEAP/iLEAP scores are getting released tomorrow- Lycee’s should be on there…
    http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2014/05/louisiana_education_department_1.html

  • nickelndime

    LYCEE: The release of the iLEAP and LEAP scores should not draw attention away from the IOWA, but it will. I see that John White has ended the embargo of the test scores. So, does that mean that the LDOE has figured out how to statistically manipulate the raw data? And oh yes, this is “raw.”