2013 Louisiana School Letter Grades: Recovery School District Gains Nothing

On October 23, 2013, John White released the long-awaited, capriciously calculated 2013 Louisiana school performance scores (SPS) and letter grades. In this “official” LDOE graphic, he attempts to sell the public on the “new,” “simpler” SPS/ letter grade formula and “easy to understand scale”, all the while maintaining that this latest attempt to label Louisiana education is “aligned with higher standards to ensure postsecondary success.”  Now, there is no evidence that such a statement has been tested, but this is the era of Untested Yet Boldly Proclaimed Reformer Smoke, so, it must be true.

In well-trained reformer fashion, John White is careful not to openly release any raw data by which third parties might examine formulas and verify calculations. In fact, the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge recently ruled that John White gets to withhold or release LDOE data at will.

Nevertheless, in this 2013 spreadsheet of SPS scores, I found information useful to the public in understanding that the “new” 2013 SPS and letter grades are not “rigorous.” Indeed, use of the 2013 calculations makes the Recovery School District (RSD) appear to have made gains that are nothing more than artifacts of a new scale and new calculations.

In the spreadsheet released on October 23, 2013, John White included two sets of SPS/letter grades: those calculated using the new 2013 formula and based on the new scale, and those calculated using last year’s formula and scale.

A quick glance at both sets of SPS/letter grades side by side enables one to see the number of cases in which the new scores yield different letter grades than the old scores do.

In the case of RSD-New Orleans, the new scale often raises a school’s grade– thereby giving RSD-NO a shine that will surely (and falsely) bolster its image as A Miracle District.

In order to help readers easily make comparisons between last year’s calculations and the two sets of scores offered by White this year, I created this spreadsheet of SPS/ letter grades. It includes information on all RSD-NO schools included in both the 2012 and 2013 LDOE releases of SPS/letter grades.

In composing this spreadsheet, I was able to capture some of the “charter churn” hidden pretty well from all but local public eye. The churn is evident where data is available for only 2012 but not 2013 and vice-versa (true of 14 entries). It is also evident in cases where schools have the two-year-allowed “T” (transition) in place of a letter grade. (In the case of one school, Fannie Williams, one sees that there is a “D” for 2012 then a “T” for 2013– evidence that Fannie Williams has been handed over from one charter operator to another just this year.)

Post-Katrina, hostile-takeover RSD is eight years old. The “T” is good for a two-year free pass from being graded. Thus, the fact that 12 schools have “T’s” demonstrates the inability of charters to establish themselves as “performing.” Don’t fret over the charter fate, however. Louisiana charters are carefully shielded by a so-called superintendent who both openly refuses to regulate them and offers a “new” grading scale that places the predominately-charter RSD-NO in a favorable light.

The charters (and other reforms) must win, you see. They have been declared The Solution. Now evidence must be made to fit the declaration.

Time to once again deconstruct a lie.

On my spreadsheet, I first list the 2012 SPS/letter grades that established RSD-NO as a “D” district in 2012. (See the 2012 SPS here.) Then I list the 2013 scores calculated if the formula and scale had been kept the same in 2013 as it was in 2012. This is the only meaningful way to compare SPS and letter grades from one year to the next. To change formulas and scales is to obliterate any meaningful comparison– exactly what reformers like White desire. Finally, I include White’s “new” 2013 SPS and letter grades– which are often higher than those of the former, 2012, calculation.

Sixty-three schools are represented on the spreadsheet. Of those 63 schools, 49 have both 2012 and 2013 SPS data. Of the 49 with complete SPS data for 2012 and 2013, only 37 have letter grades other than “T” for both years.

The “T” schools have SPS but no letter grades. In the privatizing eyes of LDOE, it is a given that charters are placed outside of accountability for two years.

This is what RSD-NO charter churn yields: 64 schools, and only 37 have the data that any school outside of RSD is expected to have for a two-year period.

Of the 37 RSD-NO schools with complete 2012 and 2013 SPS/letter grade information, 26 increased a letter grade as an artifact of John White’s changes to the scoring system. One of these 26 schools (SciTech Academy) actually increased two letter grades (“F” to “C”).  In other words, had the same rules applied in 2013 as were applied in 2012 to grading RSD schools, then 15 schools would have received a “D” instead of a “C”; 5 would have received an “F” instead of a “D”, and 5 would have received a “C” instead of a “B.”

Had consistent criteria been used in grading RSD-NO from 2012 to 2013, its district letter grade would have remained a “D.”

Change the rules: Inflate most RSD-NO scores.

Two RSD scores did decrease based upon White’s replacing the 2012 scoring with the 2013. RSD-NO lost what could have been its first and only “A” (Sci Academy remained a “B”), and KIPP Renaissance was a “D” but could have been a “C” had the scoring not changed.

Nevertheless, based upon the obviously less rigorous 2013 scoring, RSD-NO has artificially “risen” to a  “C” district.

As was true last year, White insists upon averaging the Orleans Parish Schools with RSD-NO. Orleans Parish had an “A” based upon 2012 scoring and continues to have an “A” using the “new” 2013 scoring. (Two of Orleans Parish’s 18 schools listed on the 2013 spreadsheet had drops in scores. The rest remained the same.) Interestingly, the 2012 ”average” of Orleans and RSD-NO, with Orleans’ “A” and RSD-NO’s “D,” yielded a “C.” This year, Orleans has its “A” and RSD-NO, its artificially raised “C”– and the “average” it still a “C”– an indication that White’s “new” formula is biased towards scoring schools toward the middle–a ”C.”

If artificially scoring a “C” is rigor, then RSD-NO is rigorous.

In the real world, where competent psychometricians and statisticians are allowed to calibrate formulas before ever considering applying them to high-stakes situations, such bias would have been dealt with. (And if the bias could not be dealt with, the formula would be scrapped.) As it is, outside of RSD-NO, schools such as my own Slidell High School (St. Tammany Parish) have “dropped” from an “A” in 2012 to a “B” by 2013 standards merely because the standards changed. So now White has manufactured a situation where certain schools (e.g., his state-run RSD-NO) seem to be “achieving,” while others appear to be slacking. Morgan City High (St. Mary’s Parish) would have had an “A” by consistently applied 2012 standards; however, by the new, unrelated 2013 scoring, it has a “B.” Cecilia High School (St. Martin’s Parish) would have had a “B” had consistent scoring been used from 2012 to 2013; however, it has a “C.”

This scoring scheme tends toward the middle.

Of course, there is the secrecy shrouding actual ACT scores used mixed in this 2013 “calculation.” In August, I emailed White regarding the publicizing of ACT scores for all districts. He would not release them and instead wrote that ACT would be “in” the school performance scores. For him to release actual ACT scores is too much— the public would actually understand and attach meaning to low ACT scores– so releasing a nebulous ACT “index” was a perfect idea for a man who will do all that he might to conceal useful information to the public.

I realize that White, and Caroline Roemer Shirley, and Leslie Jacobs willbroadcast the 2013 RSD-NO results as Proof That the Reforms Are Working.  However, the truth is in the spreadsheet I composed as part of this post.  The “reforms” aren’t working. They require the choreographed release of a carefully guarded shaping of limited information in order to produce the veneer of success.

This post is my bullseye aim at shattering that veneer.

There is no miracle, folks.


Photo: Flickr user isox4, creative commons licensed.

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