At NSNO, we keep close track of developments at the local and state level that may impact our schools.
Currently, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is considering shifts to the way schools are measured for success and held accountable for their students’ academic performance.
To offer up some context through this process, we share a short “explainer” of accountability in Louisiana and how it has shifted in recent years.
In New Orleans, families use many types of information to decide what type of school is the best fit for their children. They may use the Louisiana School Finder, run by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE), or the “Families” page of the NOLA Public Schools (NOLA-PS) website. They may examine academic and extracurricular offerings, consider the history of a school, or talk to other parents. They might also look at school performance scores (SPS), composed of a numerical calculation along with a “letter grade” that measures certain aspects of a school’s success.
The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) uses school performance scores to provide information to families and communities, measure access to opportunity, and track educational outcomes across the state. In New Orleans, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) uses it as part of a comprehensive review of a school when its charter contract comes up for renewal. Schools and educators may use it as information about their students’ progress.
For many years, SPS incorporated academic results (measured by standardized tests like the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or LEAP), as well as metrics such as graduation results. Although useful, this represented only a snapshot in time, and did not account for the progress schools made year-to-year. On the LEAP, students can earn one of five scores that measure their comprehension of state standards: Unsatisfactory, Approaching Basic, Basic, Mastery, or Advanced. BESE sets a statewide goal for each student to earn Mastery or Advanced, a change that was accompanied by more rigorous assessments that started in the 2014-15 school year.
Because of the impact of systemic racism and inequity, many students of color and students from low-income backgrounds often enter school further behind in the skills measured by these tests than white and more affluent students. For these students, the final test score does not tell the whole story, as it doesn’t show how far the student has progressed, or grown, in their skills. This made it difficult to know how well schools in districts like New Orleans, where most students are people of color from low-income backgrounds, were doing in helping students gain skills toward mastery over time.
In 2018, the state made an important shift that aimed to address this: the LDOE and BESE added the “progress index” that aimed to better reflect student learning and growth, not just their snapshot performance. It better reflects not just a student’s learning, but the strong work of their teachers and other educators.
The calculation itself is complex. If a student does not reach mastery, they are assigned an individualized “target” they should reach each year to be on track to earn mastery in English Language Arts and Math by 8th or 10th grade. This progress index includes two components where schools may earn points for individual students who demonstrate that growth:
Progress to mastery:
If a student reaches their yearly target score, their school earns points.
Value added model (VAM):
If a student does not reach their target score, the student’s performance is then compared to other students who share similar characteristics, such as special education status and attendance rates. The better the student does relative to their expected growth target compared to how peers with similar characteristics across the state did relative to their growth targets, the more points the school will receive. For instance, VAM compares a 4th grade student who is designated by the state as “economically disadvantaged” to the average of 4th grade students statewide who are also economically disadvantaged, and if that specific 4th grader does better than the average, then they earn points towards the school’s growth index.
In 2019, the last year schools in New Orleans received formal SPS before the COVID-19 pandemic, most New Orleans schools earned an “A” or “B” progress index rating. At NSNO, we were incredibly proud to see this. This demonstrates the hard work of students and the deep dedication of educators helping those students grow academically from year to year.
These shifts made SPS more equitable, and a better reflection of the powerful efforts of our students and educators. Even now, of course, the SPS system is not a complete picture of everything that makes a school great. Strong relationships and culture, an engaging environment, and rich extracurriculars, for instance, aren’t directly reflected in the numbers. Systemic racism and inequity remain an influence on these scores, in part because they influence our education system as a whole. But we appreciate what SPS can tell us about a school’s academic progress toward state standards, as well as the growth that students make, year to year, toward their goals. It is the only standardized metric we have in Louisiana to compare schools to one another both across the state and over time.
On May 25th, the BESE Accountability Workgroup held a meeting to discuss a report of recommendations that will be amended and presented to BESE at its next meeting on June 14th. Throughout June and July, the Workgroup will seek feedback on the report from various stakeholders. And at the August BESE meeting, a draft set of BESE Policy revisions may be available and considered based on feedback and, potentially, additional Workgroup meetings.
NSNO will continue to monitor the Workgroup’s progress, share information, and advocate for accountability measures that appropriately recognize, value, and incentivize our students’ hard work and academic progress.