Almost half of Louisiana schools get failing grades

Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School fourth-graders Paige Foulcard, left, and Marianne Gil work on a science book report in class Wednesday. The school received an A+ rating on its school report card Wednesday, the first time Louisiana has rated schools using letter grades. Westdale was one of 15 public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish to earn an A. Teacher Pam Fry credited some her science class’s success to its incorporation of reading and art into science. Show caption
Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School fourth-graders Paige Foulcard, left, and Marianne Gil work on a science book report in class Wednesday. The school received an A+ rating on its school report card Wednesday, the first time Louisiana has rated schools using letter grades. Westdale was one of 15 public schools in East Baton Rouge Parish to earn an A. Teacher Pam Fry credited some her science class’s success to its incorporation of reading and art into science.

Forty-four percent of public schools got a “D” or an “F” in Louisiana’s first ever round of letter grades for schools, officials said Wednesday.

“It simply means that we have a lot more work to do,” said Ollie Tyler, acting state superintendent of education.

Others called the results a sobering wakeup call for nearly half of the state’s more than 1,300 public schools.

“Today’s results are simply not acceptable,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

The grades, which also apply to school districts, stem from a 2010, Jindal-backed state law.

It is designed to help students, parents and other taxpayers better understand how public schools are faring.

The grades are linked to annual school performance scores, which primarily show how elementary, middle and high schools students did on key tests.

The previous system relied on stars and labels, which critics said meant little to parents in shedding light on school performance.

The maximum score is about 200.

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system got a school performance score of 86.2, which is a “D” in the new rankings.

The score was 82 last year.

Meanwhile, the Zachary Community School District was the only one to earn an “A” with a score of 121.3.

The community plans a celebration at 6 p.m. on Oct. 17.

Other area districts that earned “Bs” and were singled out by Tyler included:

• West Feliciana Parish school district, 114.2.

• Central Community School district, 110.0.

• Ascension Parish school district, 109.5.

• Livingston Parish school district, 107.5.

The results were not surprising.

Earlier this year state officials said that, based on the 2010 scores, 46 percent of public schools would have received a “D” or an “F.”

“The problems are still the same,” said Stephanie Desselle, vice president of the Council for a Better Louisiana, a nonpartisan group that studies various state issues.

“The letter grade to me better communicates how far these schools need to go,” Desselle said.

But Michael Faulk, who is president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said all but five school districts showed improvement in their scores.

“The charge, the challenge, is to bring the “D’s” into “C’s” and “C’s” into “B’s” and some “B’s” into “A’s,” said Faulk, who is also superintendent of the Central Community School District.

In an unusual move, state education officials announced the grades at a New Orleans press conference that was broadcast to other reporters through a conference call and webinar.

However, press releases that spelled out the results, which are usually released before or during the gathering, were not distributed until more than an hour afterwards.

State officials repeatedly emphasized that many schools and school districts showed improvements, and gains in closing the achievement gap between white and black students.

The Recovery School District, which oversees troubled public schools, showed the largest percentage gain of any district in the state even as major hurdles remain.

That score is 66.7 out of about 200, which state officials said represents major gains since Hurricane Katrina led to a massive makeover in the New Orleans public school system.

The state school performance score is 94.8, up from 92.6 last year.

About one in three students performs below grade level, which is a key, ongoing concern among state officials.

However, worries that 44 percent of public schools got “D’s” and “F’s” surfaced repeatedly during the press conference and afterwards.

“For too long the truth has been hidden from parents,” said Chas Roemer, who is seeking a second term on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which approved the grading scale in December.

“I would say today is a call to action,” said Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge.

Jindal made similar comments.

“If one of my children came home with a report card with almost half the report card being “D’s” and “F’s” that simply wouldn’t be acceptable,” he told reporters.

“We would roll up our sleeves, get to work,” Jindal said. “That is exactly what the state of Louisiana has to do.”

However, Jindal sidestepped a question on whether the ultimate responsibility for the grades stops at his administration. The governor said that, in the past four years, the percentage of schools that would have gotten “D’s” and “F’s” fell 20 percent and those earning “A’s” and “B’s” nearly doubled.

Under the new system, schools that meet their annual state growth target get a “plus” on their grade.

Those whose scores drop from the previous year get a “minus.”

Top and bottom schools

‘Accountability and Clear Ratings’ scores for Louisiana public schools gave an ‘A’ to schools that scored 120-200 and an ‘F’ to schools scoring less than 64.9, according to the state Department of Education.

The charts show the name of the school, the district, the letter grade and the school’s actual 2011 performance score.

Top 15 Scores in Louisiana

Benjamin Franklin High Orleans Parish A 172

S. Highlands Elementary Caddo Parish A+ 164

Haynes Academy School for Advanced Studies Jefferson Parish A+ 162

Metairie Academy for Advanced Studies Jefferson Parish A+ 162

Baton Rouge Magnet High School East Baton Rouge Parish A 161

Louisiana School for Math Science & Arts Natchitoches Parish A 158

Eden Gardens Fundamental Elementary School Caddo Parish A+ 155

Patrick F. Taylor Science & Technology Academy Jefferson Parish A+ 155

Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced Studies Jefferson Parish A+ 154

Caddo Parish Magnet High School Caddo Parish A 153

Lusher Charter School Orleans Parish A+ 153

T.S. Cooley Elementary Calcasieu Parish A+ 152

Westdale Heights Academic Magnet School East Baton Rouge Parish A+ 152

Gretna No. 2 Academy for Advanced Studies Jefferson Parish A+ 151

Lake Forest Elementary Charter School Orleans Parish A+ 150

A.E. Phillips Lab School Lincoln Parish A+ 150

Bottom 15 Scores in Louisiana

Prescott Middle School Baton Rouge... F 40

Academic Recovery and Career Discovery Center Caddo Parish.. F 40

Deckbar Alternative Jefferson Parish F- 36

Morehouse Alternative Morehouse Parish F 34

Howard School Lincoln Parish F- 33

Staring Education Center East Baton Rouge Parish F 32

Waggaman Alternative Jefferson Parish F 29

Southside Alternative High School Office of Juvenile Justice F 28

Tangipahoa Alternative Programs Tangipahoa Parish F 27

Valley Park School East Baton Rouge Parish F- 26

Riverside Alternative High School Office of Juvenile Justice F- 22

Frankie Ray Jackson Sr. Technical Center Natchitoches Parish F 21

Martyn Alternative Jefferson Parish F- 21

Hamilton Terrace Learning Center Caddo Parish F- 16

Horace G. White Sr. Learning Center Franklin Parish F- 16

Schwarz Alternative Recovery School District N.O. F- 13