Credit: Marta Jewson / The Lens

The Louisiana Department of Education released school ratings Thursday. The A-F letter grades help parents gauge school performance, and the nearly all-charter Orleans Parish school district uses the ratings to decide which charter schools will remain open.

The state has curved letter grades for the last four school years as harder standardized tests were introduced, in effect freezing the number of schools that received A’s and F’s.

But this year, the state is using a new calculation. It’s uncurved, but it takes year to year progress into account, which will likely benefit schools with low-achieving students who show growth.

The new scores makes it difficult to compare school performance year to year, so the legislature required the state to also calculate 2018 grades using the old formula.

Lacking in all of this is an uncurved 2018 benchmark under the old formula, which did not include progress in its calculation. That means the public can’t see what the effect of removing the curve would have been on the test-based ratings.

The curve was controversial. Some education leaders said it amounted to lying to parents about the value of school grades.

Experts say the new growth measure, which accounts for a quarter of a school’s grade, is the best measurement of how effective a school is. Traditional measures, based solely on test scores, show how students did during a handful of testing days and don’t account for differences in where students start.

The Orleans Parish school district received a C letter grade for the third year in a row.

Last fall, school performance scores in the city were on a three year slide. Nearly half of schools got lower scores than last year under that same model.

Just weeks into this school year, the Orleans Parish school district hinted that four schools could close when it stopped enrolling students in them. Three of those schools had F’s in 2017 and received F’s again this year, essentially sealing their fate in their contract renewal year. They are Medard Nelson, William Fischer Accelerated Academy and McDonogh 32 Charter School. Fischer and McDonogh 32 combined buildings this fall due to low enrollment.

The fourth school, Edgar P. Harney Spirit of Excellence Academy, has had administrative problems and the district referred potential criminal activity to the Orlean Parish District Attorney’s office. On Monday, Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. told parents that Harney will close at the end of the school year. Harney received a D this year, down from a C last year.

Only seven city schools earned A letter grades.* They are Benjamin Franklin High School, Edna Karr High School, Edward Hynes Charter School, Lake Forest Elementary Charter School, Lusher Charter School, New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and Warren Easton Senior High School.

Fifteen schools were rated F, and 18 were rated D.

James Singleton Charter School received an F following a year in which the state voided some its students’ tests due to testing irregularities suggesting cheating. The state slashed the school’s 2017 letter grade after the testing problems were discovered.

Landry-Walker High School, the Algiers Charter group’s flagship high school received an F. The school has been in decline since the suspicious test scores led to the dismissal of its longtime principal and the network’s CEO.

The state also identified schools failing to serve specific populations, including minority students, students with disabilities, and poor students.

2018 New Orleans school ratings (New formula only)

2014-2018 New Orleans school ratings

Update: This story has been updated to include state-authorized charter schools that operate in Orleans Parish.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...