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All that Glitters is not Gold - Friday, June 3, 2011

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School Performance 2011 is here


All that Glitters is not Gold


Grabbing headlines recently was news that the state-run Recovery School District (RSD) student population at basic or above had jumped more than four times the state average between 2007 and 2011.


The state average for that period was 66, while the RSD-New Orleans rested at 48 (a five point gain over the 2010 scores).  The State gain was 1%, and the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) stood at 82 with just a two point increase.


Not an insignificant gain for the RSD-NO.  But the end of the tale is that there remains a 23% gap between the state average and the RSD-NO; and an even larger gap of 41.5% for OPSB.


 The goal for Louisiana districts is to have all students at Basic or above by 2014.  The 2011 iLEAP for 3rd grade test takers reveals the stark reality that the percent of students, statewide, who are at Approaching Basic (AB) or Unsatisfactory (UNSAT) numbers 25%; for the RSD-NO the number is 52%, more than double the state average of kids still looking to reach Basic.  The OPSB, meanwhile, shows only 22% of its students failing to make Basic or beyond.


When the 2011 test charts of the State Department of Education are evaluated to find the percentage of students meeting promotional standards on the LEAP tests, much the same gap occurs.  The charts show that 64% of RSD-NO students met promotional standards.  The State average was 80% and the OPSB 95%.


The opportunity to introduce more glitter into the RSD-NO performance brought headlines from Leslie Jacobs that New Orleans scores showed "impressive gains and once again improved much more than the state.


Combining the scores of the OPSB and RSD brings the high performing scores of the OPSB (with 95% of all tested students at Basic or Abovc in ELA, 91% in mathematics, 85% in Science and 92% in Social Science) and those of the RSD-NO that scores 60% ELA, 56% in math, 39% in science and 51% in social studies. 


The disaggregation of the scores seems to tarnish the data presented on behalf of the RSD-NO.  Unfortunately, all boats are not lifted to the same elevation in a rising tide, and the state does not manage OPSB schools that outstrip RSD-NO scores by more than a third.


When reviewing OPSB scores in 4th grade ELA testing charts the 2009 score was 88% at Basic or Above, in 2010 that score improved in 2011 to 95%.  That compares with RSD-NO that started at 52% at Basic or Above in 2009 and rose to 60 in 2011.  Both district scores fell slightly in 2010.


Conventional wisdom admits that it is more difficult to make substantial gains in high performing and in higher graded schools.  That the OPSB increase, in promotional standards met, gained five points while the RSD-NO gained six is a significant accomplishment for the OPSB.  Study the individual RSD-NO School Performance Scores and it is clear that there now exists a two-tier system of poor and better schools.  While RSD-NO scores are rising, they did pre-Katrina as well, there are some indicators that some kids are being dumped into lower performing schools so as to build scores in the originally assigned school.


Laurel and Live Oak are two RSD-NO schools that do sustain all students and they boast 60 and 70% failure rates.


A byproduct of RSD-NO performance is the apparent two-tiered system that perpetuates schools at the bottom of the state rank ordering of School Performance Scores.  An example can also be found in the Algiers charters where Behrman and McDonogh 32 scores, from the same operator, produced 100% pass rates on 4th grade English LEAP, while a few blocks away the other posted an appalling 33% pass rate on the same test.


Almost lost in the glitter of RSD-NO gain reports is the performance of Central with 93%, Zachary 97%, West Feliciana 92%,, Livingston 90%, Plaquemines 94%, Catahoula, Ouachita, St. Charles, St. Tammany, and Vernon all at 89% meeting promotional standards. 


While RSD-NO defenders often combine the high performing OPSB school scores, they object to comparing RSD-NO poverty-stricken student scores to OPSB.  But, comparing RSD-NO to Plaquemines or Catahoula or Ouachita, all heavily at risk student bodies, ought to raise some eyebrows.


When the RSD was being created the promise was that it would take three years to turn around those terrible New Orleans schools.  It is now five years.  A dozen RSD-NO charters have had their contracts extended in spite of not reaching academic goals, and only one meeting its fiscal transparency goals.



Such a record seems hardly the stuff that should be considered a model for Detroit, or Haiti.

It might, for some, be the glitter of fools gold rather than the real thing.


Don Whittinghill




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