On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released the annual statewide School Performance Scores (SPS). These scores allow parents to make informed decisions about their options for their children’s school. These scores are rated A-F and are designed to gauge how students perform on state assessments or tests, how well schools are working to get students on grade level in various subjects, and how frequently students earn college credit before graduating high school.
First, we are thankful for educators who work every day to prepare our students for life after high school, which may be career or technical training, college, university, and/or work. Second, we are appreciative of the NOLA Public Schools staff and administrators who work behind the scenes to support the critical systems-level work that must be done to move our 46,000 student school district forward. But, despite the gains that have been made at several of our schools, there are still critical areas of opportunity that must be addressed by NOLA Public Schools leadership.
Thirty-Seven (37) Schools Require Intervention
Despite some performance gains made at the high-school level in New Orleans, the state’s data shows that approximately thirty-seven schools in New Orleans require comprehensive or urgent interventions. These interventions are triggered if a school earned an overall letter grade of D or F for three (3) consecutive years and/or a cohort graduation rate below 67% in the most recent year of operation. An additional intervention is triggered if a school earned a subgroup score equivalent to an F for two consecutive years or if a school had an out-of-school suspension rate greater than twice the national average for three consecutive years of operation. The primary populations impacted by these interventions include, but are not limited to, students who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, homeless students, English language learners, and African-American students.
From an equity perspective, these student populations must have targeted support and resources directed to them. Although NOLA Public Schools has begun to address these issues through centralizing services and partnering with third party providers to support schools and students, additional innovations and partnerships must be explored to ensure that our special student populations thrive.
K-8 Performance Decline
The decline in K-8 performance is concerning. As the pipeline to high school, grades K-3 are critical especially in the areas of literacy and math. In 2018, approximately 66% of students were not reading on grade level when they were promoted to the fourth (4th) grade. Through the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, several organizations provide support to increase literacy by partnering with NORDC on summer reading initiatives and programs. Additionally, as an operator of a Head Start Center, we know and value high-quality early childhood education, especially from birth to 3 years old. As such, we encourage NOLA Public Schools to explore additional ways to invest in the expansion of high-quality early childhood education seats so that our pipeline of scholars can be cultivated at birth rather than waiting until children reach pre-kindergarten at 4 years old.
Almost 2:1 Ratio of Underperforming Schools to High-performing Schools
Out of 81 schools identified in the annual performance report, approximately 45% (36) of schools are rated D or F. At the other end of the spectrum, approximately 23% (19) of schools were rated A or B. While the increase of students attending A or B schools has risen should be applauded, the fact that our ratio of under-performing schools to high-performing schools is approximately 2:1 presents a dearth of opportunity for our school system, as well as the community, to support our struggling schools as much as possible. Flipping the ratio to 1:2 (that is for every 1 under-performing school we have 2 high performing schools) is an aspirational goal that we must all embrace.
“As an organization that is invested heavily in supporting students from cradle through career, we understand the importance of building a strong educational foundation for infants and toddlers as they transition to kindergarten. We also know that supporting our teachers and school operators in K – 8 is critical. Preparing our students through high school as they enter the workforce or attend college is the key to unlocking a world of opportunities that defeat poverty, promote economic self-reliance, and create generational wealth,” stated Judy Reese Morse, President & CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana. “Through our advocacy work, equity-centered research and reports, leadership programs, and dual-enrollment initiatives, we are steadfast in our commitment to partner with NOLA Public Schools and school operators to ensure that every child has access to a quality public education from birth through high school.”
“There are many high points from the School Performance Scores that are to be commended, however there is still a need for improvement that must take place so that we can accomplish more highs than lows,” said Dana Henry, Vice President of Education & Youth Development of the Urban League of Louisiana. “We are devoted to using our programs, initiatives, and advocacy work to addressing the areas that need improvement while also continuing to strengthen the assets. We will also use our resources in helping to promote high quality teachers and school leaders and making sure schools retain them in an effort to provide stability for students. We are dedicated in providing the best for our children throughout the state of Louisiana and will continue to work diligently in achieving the best results.”