Culture Shock and the myth of School Performance Scores
Through conversations with parents and teachers in the New Orleans metro school districts I have found, time and again, that we find ourselves referencing School Performance Scores, or Louisiana SPS. It seems like a sensible reference point; standardizing the way that schools are graded, like students, across the state. It is a Grade that parents refer to when selecting schools in New Orleans, searching out the "A" schools or attempting to determine how well their familiar and neighborhood schools are achieving. But there is a lot hidden behind the SPS.
The L.A. SPS Score scale has changed in recent years, having gone from a 200 point scale to a 150 point scale. However, many people do not know this, or that it was even at 200 points. Many parents, especially, conceptualize the scale like they would a school scale- out of 100 points. Because of this, perception about what an "A" and "B" school is may be skewed in the school's favor.
What are the scales? Louisiana has them and information about how they are calculated here. An "A" School is 100-150 points; a whopping fifty point scale. A "B" school, however, is only 85-99 points- a mere 14 points. The range for an "A" and an "F" school have the largest range- leaving the scores for "B-D" schools wide open. Opening the range at the "A" end allows for more "B" schools despite the fact that they are a full 60 points below the top possible score.
What does this mean for "A" and "B" schools?
There is a vast difference between what "A" and "B" schools actually are.
For people in New Orleans, consider that Ben Franklin High school is a 141.3 scoring "A" school- and Edna Karr High is a 104.3 scoring "A" school. What similarities exist between these schools, making them both "A" schools? What differences exist?
Ben Franklin's average ACT score is a 29- well above college readiness and in the realm of entrance for many of the nation's best colleges.
Edna Karr's average ACT Score is a 20- exactly seated at the level of college readiness and below even the entrance requirement of our flagship school, Louisiana State University.
However, they are both "A" schools in this state.
Where do we observe the difference?
In the culture and demographics of the schools.
Many parents are pleased to send their children to "B" schools, since New Orleans is lacking in "A" schools (but not as many "B" schools, since the scoring scale is tipped at the upper and lower ends). But is a "B" school really just as good?
In New Orleans, an SPS of "B" seems to suggest that some teaching and learning is occurring but it is not the overall culture of the school. Many of the city's "B" schools have issues with drug use, police incident, high suspension rates and, generally, just difficulty in managing students on the campus.
There's definitely some difference in culture.
A friend and former colleague was shocked when I described my experience at a "B" school BEFORE I was employed there. Students walked the halls, skipped classes, left campus, frequently fought, had sex and and drugs on campus. But, by all measures, they were "achieving" just fine.
The students bragged.
Eleventh graders bragged about their 13 ACT Composite scores. They vowed wealth and richness without any skills or business standing to gain it. They said "I've always been on the honor roll!"
The most well meaning teachers attempted to deliver lessons, day after day, to rude, disrespectful and disengaged students. Students who talked during lessons. Students who copied ever assignment given. Students who Googled quiz questions. Students who refused to turn over cell phones even during ACT testing. Students who cursed out and threatened to fight teachers. Students who refuse to work on anything independently (well, forget that cute little Madeline Hunter lesson plan format and the quaint "I/WE/YOU do lesson format. They would not work alone even when the assignment was modeled for them.). Students who sincerely did not care about and did not want to (and often didn't) attend school.
There is a deep misbelief that Louisiana's schools are improving when they are continually receiving funding and revamping the curriculum to hide the lack of gains and maintain the appearance that strides are being taken to improve the state's success. But where is that money going, when New Orleans "head of schools" have been under fire for making high salaries at low performing schools?
Louisiana calls the SPS calculation system "Accountability" but there's a lot hiding under her skirt. A quick scan of the state's 2017 SPS scores shows low performance, even by our standards, across the board.
Louisiana is not achieving.
Our children in our "high performing" schools are not, either.