Parish schools to rate poorly in new system

Published 12:22 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

VIDALIA — A new system for scoring schools has the Concordia Parish School Board academic director worried the state is making public schools look bad.

CPSB Academic Director Pual Nelson said he thinks a new letter grade system will rate five Concordia Parish schools as receiving a “D,” three schools with a “C” and two schools with a “B.”

The state has not yet released official grades.

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The former system rated schools and school districts using stars, with one star being the lowest and five stars being the highest.

Nelson said he believes the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which ultimately voted on the new system, failed to heed the recommendation of a committee the Louisiana Department of Education appointed to advise the BESE board.

“We have a public board that seems bound and determined to embarrass the people who work in education on daily basis,” Nelson said.

Scott Norton, the assistant superintendent of the LDE, said the purpose of changing the system from the star ratings, which were used for 13 years, was to use a system that was more meaningful to the public.

The star system did not provide enough context, Norton said. Official results for the new system should be released this week, he said.

Nelson said despite the low grades Concordia Parish schools received, five of these schools will have a School Performance Score higher than the state average.

Both the former star system and the new letter grade system use the SPS to calculate its score.

“(The new system) has taken letter grades and artificially inflated them to…create a system in which most public schools will look bad in the media,” Nelson said.

Nelson estimated approximately 900 schools will earn a “C” or lower based on the new system and only 300 schools will have the grade of a “B” or higher.

“To put these school grades in perspective, Vidalia Junior High School, which recently won the National Blue Ribbon Award from the United States Department of Education — one of only six junior highs in the state to do so — is now considered to be a ‘C’,” Nelson said.

Nelson said public schools must teach every child, including those with special needs. And some of the schools have complex issues, for example nearly 98 percent of students are receiving free and reduced lunches at some schools in Ferriday.

Nelson said BESE board members and other influences, such as from Gov. Bobby Jindal, seem to be pushing for issues such as private school vouchers, charter schools and magnet schools.

“It’s very political,” Nelson said.

While Nelson said the new system is not indicative of how the schools are actually performing, he said he understood that all of the parish’s schools have room for improvement.

“And we are working hard to make that improvement occur,” he said.