Louisiana In A School Daze, But Numbers Add Up For New Orleans Students
As more than 49,000 New Orleans school kids go back to 86 area public schools this week, they’ll be dealing with plusses and minuses. According to personal-finance website WalletHub, Louisiana has the second-worst school system in the U.S.
WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 29 key measures of quality and safety and found Louisiana deserves a dunce cap – it ranks 44 for the worst median ACT scores; 45 for the highest percentage of threatened and injured high school students; 46 for highest bullying incidence rates; 47 for worst dropout rate; 48 for worst reading test scores; and 51 for worst math test scores.
But, as Louisiana flunks, New Orleans public school students are changing their course and making the grade. Graduation rates have increased by nearly five percentage points, rising from 72.9 percent in 2017 to 77.8 percent in 2018. The Louisiana Department of Education found this rate of improvement in Orleans Parish outpaces graduation growth statewide.
“As a unified school system in New Orleans, we have reason to be proud of our rising graduation rate,” said NOLA Public Schools(NOLAPS) Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis, Jr. “Excellent progress is being made every day, especially for our students most in need. These outcomes reflect the hard work of our students and educators along with the support of our families and the community-at-large, working together to ensure every student graduates on time and is prepared for the future.”
NOLAPS did some homework and is giving local students an A for effort. Compared to other similarly sized districts, New Orleans continues to have the highest graduation rate and economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities exceed the state average for those students who graduated on time in 2018. In New Orleans, 76.4 percent of economically disadvantaged students in the class of 2018, compared to 75.5 percent statewide, graduated on time and graduating students with disabilities in New Orleans exceeded the state average by 6.5 percentage points, with 65.8 percent graduating on time compared to 59.3 percent statewide in 2018.
“While our system of schools must be relentlessly focused on ensuring every student is prepared to meet the demands for graduation, these new outcomes indicate our elementary schools and high schools across the city continue to stand out among their counterparts statewide,” said Lewis, Jr. “Their results showcase our educators’ excellent work in helping students graduate on time and preparing them for college and future careers.”
New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO), a nonprofit that advocates delivering excellent public schools for every child in New Orleans, is adding to the local school spirit. Based on the Louisiana Department of Education’s release of the Class of 2018 four-year cohort graduation rates, NSNO determined the city’s cohort graduation rate has risen by 24 percentage points, from 54 percent to 78 percent, since 2004; the number of New Orleans graduates qualifying for TOPS state scholarship awards aimed at two- and four-year colleges increased by 10 percent from 2017 to 2018; and for almost all groups of historically underserved students identified by the state, graduation rates improved for the city’s Class of 2018.
NSNO reps said, overall, schools covered a lot of ground focusing on attendance outreach and strengthening school culture. It also credits the City with expanding career and technical education (CTE) options.
NSNO asked three school administrators about what they did to improve graduation rates:
- “We have focused on providing access to various graduation pathways, aligning the curriculum with the state’s requirement and focusing on each student’s specific needs towards graduation,” said International High School of New Orleans’ Head of School Sean Wilson.
- “Helping more scholars graduate means supporting them from the very start of their high school career,” said Abramson Sci Academy principal Rhonda Dale. “Our team focused on each individual scholar to assess what they needed to be successful. Then, we used research-based interventions to support those who were struggling. We hired someone to be the nexus between students, families and teachers and help coordinate the execution on supports needed for student success.”
- “We invested in parents by including them in conversations about graduation requirements and post-secondary plans,” said InspireNOLA Charter Schools (Edna Karr High School, Eleanor McMain Secondary School) CEO and Officer Jamar McKneely. “We started early and continued frequent communication so that parents were informed and involved. Then, we increased college exposure and tried to make it a tangible future reality for students; they went on college trips, attended a college fair and more students participated in dual enrollment courses. Lastly, every student received individualized counseling that included data tracking and progress monitoring that was specific just to them.”
Another major educational milestone is that New Orleans public school students are proving Advanced Placement (AP) exams are as easy as ABC by outperforming the state average.
NSNO reps found 90 percent of the city’s open-enrollment schools that serve high school juniors and seniors offer AP courses, and the percentage of students in open-enrollment schools taking AP exams, scored on a five-point scale, has nearly doubled since the 2011-12 school year.
In 2019, New Orleans students’ scores on those exams not only improved compared to 2018, but they also outperformed the state – 40 percent of New Orleans students who took AP exams earned a three or higher, compared to 35 percent statewide.
NSNO also determined that between 2012 and 2018, the number of students earning a three or higher on AP exams grew 167 percent, and during the 2018-2019 school year Benjamin Franklin High School, Lusher Charter School, Frederick A. Douglass High School (formerly KIPP Renaissance) and the New Orleans Military & Maritime Academy were the top four New Orleans public high schools producing the highest percentages of students scoring a three or above on AP exams.
In a statement, NSNO reps said local students deserve some extra credit for hitting the books: “New Orleans public schools’ AP test-taking rates and scores mark real possibility. By earning college credit while still in high school, our students save valuable time and tuition dollars down the road…. In New Orleans, we are proud that our students are adding to these numbers and exceeding the state average. This year, our students remind us that not only are they ready, they are eager. They want to grow, excel and show the world what they can do.”