What Adjusted Grades Tell Us about New Orleans' Schools

Changing how school grades are calculated changes the overall picture of school performance -- and yields new insights about New Orleans' schools.

Earlier this week, we posted revised 2014-15 letter grades for K-8 public schools in Orleans Parish. Our revisions placed significant emphasis on student growth in addition to pass rates on state tests. You can see the list of grades and our methodology here.

Here are four things that stood out to us when we reviewed the results.

1) The highest performing school in New Orleans, according to the revised grades, is ReNEW Sci Tech Academy.

With the highest student growth rate in all of New Orleans, ReNEW Sci Tech received an A grade in our analysis, up from the B grade it earned from the state. Using our approach, it surpasses the overall academic performance of selective enrollment schools like Lusher and Lake Forest. As you may know, however, investigators have uncovered evidence of cheating at that campus. It is unclear whether any of the cheating included tests that contribute toward the school’s state letter grade and the data we relied on for our recalculations.

2) A focus on growth can highlight differences between schools that seem similar on the surface.

Consider two Westbank elementary schools: Martin Behrman and Harriet Tubman. Both earned C grades from the state. They are located in the same geographic area. Families often consider both schools, but Behrman has historically been more popular. For the 2015-16 school year, 184 rising kindergarten families listed Behrman on OneApp, while just 59 listed Tubman. Only five elementary schools in OneApp were listed more often than Behrman.

However, in our revised grades, Tubman jumped from a C grade to a B grade, while Behrman slid from a C grade to a D grade. Why? Tubman had much higher student growth. To families, this might be valuable information. While the two schools have the same official grade – C – the one with higher growth actually has less demand for seats, making it more likely that a family can find a spot for their child there.

3) Within each network of schools, there are higher performing and lower performing schools.

We don’t see consistently outstanding performance within any particular networks.* This is true, for example, of schools governed by the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB). While OPSB has historically managed higher performing schools that were not placed into the Recovery School District, some of its schools show room for improvement once growth is given heavier weight in their scores. Robert Russa Moton and Eleanor McMain both dropped from B grades to C grades in the revised analysis.

Or consider KIPP, one of the largest and most recognized networks in the city. One KIPP school improved when accounting for growth – KIPP Leadership jumped from a D to a C – while another school, KIPP Central City Primary, declined from C to D. It’s important to note that KIPP Central City Primary runs through fourth grade, so it has only two tested grades in its data set. Nonetheless, this is a reminder that a strong brand name is not an automatic guarantee of performance.

* The only exception might be the ReNEW network, three of whose schools improved to A or B grades. As discussed above, however, the results of its top-scoring school remain uncertain.

4) Some of the city’s most desirable, competitive schools have high growth rates – and some don’t.

For instance, Audubon, Lusher, and Lake Forest are among the most sought after public schools in New Orleans. According to our analysis, they don’t just accept high performing students – they also grow them. Each school retained an A grade when growth was taken into account.

We did not see quite the same trend in this particular year with Alice Harte and Hynes, two other popular schools. Alice Harte earned an A grade from the state. In our analysis, it received a B, largely because of mediocre growth in English Language Arts. Hynes also received a B in our analysis after being assigned an A by the state. It had so-so growth in math. Families may want to follow up on these patterns as they assess their school options.

Do you see other interesting trends in the adjusted scores? We’d love to hear about them. If you do, please share them with us on Twitter or Facebook.

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