The Louisiana Department of Education released its annual school performance scores Wednesday. The ratings are largely based on state standardized tests, students’ improvement year-to-year and, for high schools, graduation rates and ACT scores.  

The A through F letter grades help inform parents decision-making when it comes to evaluating public schools. The ratings also carry high-stakes consequences for individual charter schools in New Orleans as letter grades determine which charters remain open. 

Eight city schools received A’s and 11 earned B’s. But the vast majority of city schools earned a C or a D. Twenty-six earned a C and 24 received a D. 

Twelve schools got an F rating and four of those closed at the end of last school year. That means eight remain open this fall. Of the eight, only two are up for charter renewal. The district’s release states staff have already visited those schools. 

Many New Orleans school grades were brought up somewhat by a new formula adopted last year that incorporates year-over-year academic growth. Growth accounts for a quarter of an elementary school’s grade, 12.5 percent for high schools. The rest — called the assessment grade — is based on academic performance in a single year. 

Of the city’s roughly 80 schools, the majority got an F on the assessment portion of the state ratings.

The district highlighted the fact that roughly 75 percent of schools received an A or B in the growth index, in a press release Wednesday morning

Overall, the NOLA Public Schools district received a C letter grade with a district performance score of 67.8. That was a slight uptick from its C rating of 66.2 last year. The district fell shy of this year’s state average of 77.1, which equates to a B. Schools are measured on a 150-point scale. 

“While there is work to be done and continued progress that must be made, these school performance results indicate our school system is growing stronger every year,” said NOLA Public Schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr. “The improvement in our district performance comes just after one year under local control and is a testament to the hard work of our local educators.”

Lewis highlighted the city’s four alternative schools, which ranked in the top ten of the state’s 25 schools. 

“I am also extremely proud of our local alternative schools that are ranked among the highest performing in the state this year under a new rating system which now helps draw attention to the growth and achievement of all our students citywide.”

Neighboring Jefferson Parish school district got a C at 71.5, a slight improvement for that district as well. St. Bernard Parish schools earned a B with an 83 and St. Tammany Parish schools also earned a B at 85.1.

Additionally, the state identified 56 schools in New Orleans that require intervention on behalf of a student subgroup, such as students with disabilities or English language learners. That is part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

High-stakes grades

As the annual renewal process for charter schools in New Orleans approaches, the release of grades carries a lot of weight. That’s because the NOLA Public Schools district does not renew F-rated charter schools, meaning they either close or are taken over by another charter group. 

This year, two charter schools up for renewal — Mary D. Coghill Charter School and Joseph A. Craig Charter School — received F’s and will likely not operate beyond the end of the school year when their contracts expire. Thus far, it appears they will be taken over by other charter groups, but Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. has yet to make recommendations to the Orleans Parish School Board. 

However, the district had already notified Coghill and Craig parents that the schools were likely to receive an F. Lewis will likely make his recommendations public at the Nov. 19 school board committee meetings. 

Last year, the district halted enrollment at charter schools that received F’s in their renewal year. The district did not immediately respond to a question about whether enrollment would be halted at schools in a similar situation this year. 

There are five other schools up for contract renewal this winter: Wilson Charter School, G.W. Carver High School, one of alternative school The NET’s two campuses, Foundation Preparatory Academy and Langston Hughes Charter Academy. 

Wilson and Carver each earned C’s, which should mean their charters will be renewed. 

In the first year of a new grading scale for alternative schools — which enroll students who have been expelled from other schools — alternative high school The NET also earned a C. In prior years, most alternative schools received F’s as they were graded on a scale very similar to the one used for traditional schools. The district highlighted the city’s four alternative schools in its release as they all received scores placing them in the top ten of the state’s 25 alternative schools. 

Foundation Prep and Langston Hughes each received D’s. They will likely be renewed but the low grades could mean that their renewed charters will be three years instead of the usual five years. 

Second year of state’s new calculation

New formulas or curved state ratings have been almost an annual trend in recent years, but 2019 is the first year in several that the same formula has been used two years in a row and there is no curve. 

A significant portion of the grades are based on student growth, a metric increasing in popularity across the country that was introduced as part of the calculation last year.

Prior to the introduction of the new formula, the state had curved letter grades for four school years as harder standardized tests were introduced, in effect freezing the number of schools that received A’s and F’s.

The new calculation is uncurved, but it takes year-to-year progress into account, which will likely benefit schools with low-achieving students who show growth. In elementary schools, growth makes up a quarter of the school’s letter grade

Experts say growth is a more accurate way to measure a school’s performance than just the aptitude of its pupils, as measured by standardized test performance.

The rest is largely based on test scores, which in the past have often been the sole basis for state ratings.

Forty-three of the city’s 78 graded schools received an F on the assessment portion of the school performance scores. That’s 55 percent. That’s roughly the same portion of schools that received an F on the assessment portion of the 2018 letter grades. 

In 2017, when schools were graded on a curve meant to ease in higher standards, eight traditional schools in New Orleans received an F. That was roughly 10 percent of the city’s schools. Three additional alternative schools, graded before the recent changes to alternative school assessment, also earned F’s.  

Alice M. Harte Charter School, Morris Jeff Community School, Bricolage Academy and Rosenwald Collegiate Academy are the only non-selective admission schools to earn a C or better in assessment. The only schools that earned A’s and B’s have gifted preference for pre-K students, admissions testing or some other requirement beyond applying in OneApp, the school district’s open enrollment lottery. 

Looking at local charter groups, both of New Orleans College Prep’s schools, Walter L. Cohen and Crocker received F’s. ReNEW Schools’ three elementary schools received two D and one F.* The city’s largest charter operator, KIPP New Orleans, runs seven schools. They earned one B, four C’s and two D’s.  

Lafayette Academy dropped from a C to an F. The school was forced to move from its home building last summer after a botched asbestos job last year. 

High schools are rated using state tests, graduation rate information, ACT scores and a measure called strength of diploma which evaluates the courses offered at the school. 

John F. Kennedy High School earned a C overall. High school scores are based on four categories: assessment — a mixture of test scores and student progress — ACT scores, strength of diplomas and graduation rate. 

A mismanagement scandal led to about half of the school’s 2019 seniors being unable to graduate on time. But the school won’t see that reflected in the graduation rate portion of its school performance score this year. That’s because the graduation rate portion of the measure lags a year, state spokeswoman Sydni Dunn said. 

“The graduation cohort that was used for this SPS was the 2017-2018 grad cohort,” Dunn said. “The 2019 cohort will be used in the 2020 SPS.”

This year, Kennedy got an A for graduation rate. Its assessment score breakdown is a C for progress and an F for test scores. Its strength of diploma grade is a B. On ACT scores, it earned an F.

Harney Elementary School school also had a difficult 2018-2019 school year. Plagued by problems both academic and financial, the school’s former charter board turned the school over to the NOLA Public Schools district in January. The district decided to close the school at the end of the school year. Harney’s last ever school performance grade is an F. 

Meanwhile, a very small state-run charter school Uptown, Noble Minds Institute, did not receive a letter grade. That’s because the school only had 11 third-grade students last year. 

“Schools have to have at least 120 units (tests) included in the calculation, or approximately 30 students,” Dunn explained. 

Schools that enroll only second grade students and younger do not receive a grade because those students don’t take the state standardized tests.

2019 New Orleans school ratings

2019 New Orleans high school ratings

Because high school scores are calculated differently than elementary schools, we’ve added a separate table with full high school data.

2014-2019 New Orleans school ratings

*Correction: This story was corrected to reflect ReNEW Schools’ proper scores. (Nov. 6, 2019)

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 to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.