Public school letter grades undergoing changes

While public schools will get two letter grades Thursday, this year’s rating system is aimed at being simpler than in the past, state Superintendent of Education John White said Wednesday.

The grades are based on 2012-13 school performance scores.

However, how the results are tabulated has undergone significant changes, especially for high schools.

Last year, 36 percent of Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools were rated D and F, down from 44 percent the year before.

White said the number of F-rated schools is down this year without giving specifics which will be provided Thursday.

Last year, 157 schools got the lowest grade.

The often controversial grades stem from a 2010 law pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.

White said the revamped assessments are designed for easier understanding, making sure that students get skills they will need after high school and rewarding schools, where even low-achieving students made notable progress.

Schools and school districts will get one letter grade that show how they fared under the old ratings and a separate grade, which counts, on how they did under the new formula.

White said the two-grade plan is aimed at crediting schools in a transition year for progress they made under the previous scoring system.

The executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, Scott Richard, disagreed.

Richard said Tuesday it will be “very confusing” for schools and school districts to get two letter grades, especially since the one issued under the new scoring system carries consequences.

Grades for elementary schools will be based on test results, including LEAP and iLEAP.

For middle schools, 95 percent of the grade will stem from tests.

How high school are rated underwent the biggest changes.

Under the old system, test results accounted for 70 percent and the graduation rate 30 percent.

Under the new system, all students have to take the ACT — a test of college readiness — and those scores count for 25 percent of the grade.

The other components include:

End of course test results, 25 percent.

Graduation rate, 25 percent.

The quality of the diploma, such as college credit courses, 25 percent.

Last year high school scores showed dramatic gains, mostly because White said students did noticeably better on end-of-course tests.

However, those exams were more rigorous this time.

The fact that all students have to take the ACT, not just those who are colllege bound, has sparked predictions that high school grades will drop this time.

White said offering schools bonus points for students who scored below grade level but who made “significant progress” is not meant to protect troubled schools.

He said it is aimed at making sure schools do not give up on those students.

Under the previous system the top score was 200.

The maximum is 150 under the new reviews.

An A is 100-150. An F is below 50.

“We are trying to simplify the system by creating a scale that is more in line with how we think of student scoring,” White said. “It isn’t exact but it is a close approximation and we think better reflects how people think of grades.”