Based on the most recent test scores, officials with the New Orleans College Prep charter network are projecting that the state will assign Sylvanie Williams elementary an ‘F’ rating for the just completed 2016-17 school year, two letter grades below the ‘C’ that they were striving for in order to avoid losing the charter.
School officials have had about two weeks to analyze the test data released by the state from the last school year, they said, and their projections based on the data are for Sylvanie Williams to earn a 36 school performance score. Last year was a charter renewal year for Sylvanie Williams, and state regulations had required that the school — because of the length of time that New Orleans College Prep has operated it — to score 70 or higher, for a C.
Last year, Sylvanie Williams earned a 54, a ‘D,’ up slightly from a 52.4 the year before that. Throughout the 2016-17 school year, College Prep officials had described rising to a ‘C’ as a significant challenge but within reach, and devoted extra staffing, individualized lesson plans and even after-hours tutoring to try to reach the goal.
Practice test scores administered to the kids throughout the year alternated between small jumps and plateaus, so the precipitous drop shown by the actual end-of-year testing administered by the state was a surprise.
The same problem affected the network’s other elementary school, Crocker College Prep, said principal Nicole Boykins, so she’s researching to see if other schools had more success with accurate benchmarking.
“Our internal data was not a reflection of the actual scores,” Boykins told the network’s governing board Monday night. “…I think we need to get tighter with our internal measures.”
The ‘F’ rating is still a preliminary projection, and the state will not release the official rating until the fall. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will then make a final decision on the status of Sylvanie Williams’ charter, though College Prep officials had said earlier in the year they did not have any reason to expect the charter to be renewed if the scores fell short.
Any change in the status of the charter would not likely come until the 2018-19 school year, however, so College Prep will continue to operate Sylvanie Williams this year with a new principal, Dr. Stanley Green. Green had previous led several alternative high schools in New Orleans before going to the St. Louis public school system to complete his doctorate.
Green said that last year’s test data shows that many Sylvanie Williams students were just a point or two away from reaching the next tier of achievement (from “approaching basic” to “basic”, for example), so those helping those students improve will be the first priority. About 60 percent of Sylvanie Williams teachers will be first-year teachers, however, so summertime teacher training has focused on role-playing exercises to help prepare new teachers for situations they’ll encounter in the classroom.
At Crocker, the school performance scores are projected to fall from a 51.8 this year from a 57.8 last year, and a 69.2 the year before. The result was so different from what the school’s practice tests had predicted — at some points showing a six-point increase, rather than decrease — that officials originally thought it was a mistake.
“It wasn’t terrible, but it’s still something that we’re not very proud of,” Boykins said.
This year, the state is issuing new practice tests that should provide a better indicator of how students are doing during the year. Crocker officials, meanwhile, will focus on the 15 to 20 percent of the students who struggle with behavior issues, Boykins said, because if their scores rise, the entire school’s rating will.
This year will be a renewal year for Crocker’s charter, but because Crocker is a newer campus for College Prep, all it has to do is retain its ‘D’ grade to earn a 3-year renewal.
Cohen College Prep showed the smallest drop in its test scores, to a 76.5 less than two points down from its 78.3 last year. That score is a good bit down from its celebrated high point 88 two years ago, but well above the 72.5 and 63.5 in the two previous years.
The long-term drop was due to a fall in graduation rates, said principal Michael George. The short-term dip over the last year is because of a fall in the scores on specific subject-level end-of-the-year exams, George said, because four of those classes’ teachers were in their first year. On the brighter side, the students performance on ACT scores were tied for the highest the school has ever earned, which made up for some of the other shortfall.
A bright spot for the network is enrollment at in the first year of the expanded Hoffman College Prep early-childhood program. Most of the infant and youngest age levels are now full with waiting lists, and only a handful of seats remain open in the 3- and 4-year-old levels, reported school leader Eboni Walker.
Cohen is in the first year of a six-year renewal, based on that B score in 2014-15 and maintaining a high C in 2015-16. Based on data the school already has, the graduation rates will rise in the coming year, and he said that more experienced teachers will be handling the subjects that the end-of-course exams measure.
[Clarification: A previous version of this article quoted College Prep officials discussing the effect of murdered students on the Cohen’s dropout rate. Cohen officials now say that the student in question had already departed the school about a month before he was killed, and state officials confirmed that students who die during the school year are not counted as dropouts.]
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below.