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Is Recovery School District *Improvement* “Enormous”?

February 9, 2015

On February 9, 2015, New Orleans Recovery School District (RSD) “architect” Leslie Jacobs declared victory for RSD growth” via “recently released” 2014 ACT scores.

Recently released.

In March, Louisiana will be conducting the 2015 state administration of the ACT, yet Louisiana Superintendent John White is only now, in February 2015, releasing 2014 ACT information.

That he did not plan to do so is evident in the timing of the release, done without fanfare on a Friday afternoon during the Mardi Gras season.

The timing is no surprise to me.

On January 31, 2015, I backed him into a corner by releasing Class of 2014 ACT composite information that I obtained directly from the ACT information system. As anyone familiar with White might expect, his version of RSD outcomes differs from the information that I obtained using the Class of 2014 ACT information system, with White’s version of the 2014 average composite favoring RSD.

Whereas the Class of 2014 ACT information system offers data on all students identifying themselves as Class of 2014 no matter when such students took the ACT, I cannot vouch for what White has offered. White is a noted liar, and in the case of trusting either a cornered White or the ACT information system, I choose Curtain Number Two.

That noted, it seems that all White could do in his delinquent and forced-hand reporting was eek out an average composite score of 16.4 for his state-run pet, RSD.

The information I posted using the ACT information system has New Orleans RSD’s Class of 2014 composite at 15.7.

Though I know that White’s 16.4 is an embellishment, let us consider what he and Jacobs are trying to sell, and let us do so by considering what Jacobs features in her February 6, 2015, New Orleans RSD promotional. Below is a table from Jacobs’ post:

ACT Scores Over Time
  Class of 2005 Class of
19.7 20.5 0.8
Schools transferred to RSD
14.4 16.4 2
New Orleans (OPSB + RSD)
17 18.4 1.4
19.8 19.2 – 0.6

Consider Jacobs’ condensing ten years of ACT composite data into two points: that from 2005, and what Cornered White just produced as his version from 2014.

Jacobs reports that RSD has “changed” + 2 in its ACT composite.

In offering such limited information, Jacobs leads readers to believe that the “gain” has been steady, and that, by extension, one can expect a continued, steady gain.

Very important in this Tenth Year of the New Orleans Charter Miracle to sell the story of Expected Continued Improvement.

Sure, such an assumption requires three more decades to reach up to the “declining” state average of 19.2, but let’s not magnify that truth. Much harder to sell RSD if we clearly tell the public we expect the reforms to take generations of RSD students to cycle through before Reform Arrives.

Let us instead examine that almost-decade of RSD composite scores that Jacobs collapses.

We’ll start at 2005, with the RSD composite of 14.4 that Jacobs offers. Jacobs links to this ACT data sheet*, which starts at 2007 with an RSD composite of 14.5. Two years; .01 ACT composite “gain.”

The next year, 2008, RSD had a 15.2. Then, in 2009, it dropped to a 14.8. In 2010, it was up to 15.3. In 2011, up even higher, to 16.2.

In 2012, still shooting upward, at 16.8.  A miracle.

And then.

In 2013, down to 16.3.

And now, for 2014, White reports in 2015 a belch of a “gain” at 16.4.

Jacobs states, “During this time (2005 to 2014), the RSD improved its ACT average by two points.” What Jacobs does not report is that “during this time” the RSD average peaked at 16.8 and is down from that for the past two years. Surely reporting the Class of 2014 ACT information system average composite of 15.7 is out of the reform-spewing question.

In addition, by Jacobs’ own note, an ACT composite of 16.8– RSD’s highest in nine years– is not even high enough for a student to qualify for a TOPS two-year tech scholarship.

Who would step up and buy New Orleans Reform if it were packaged in such see-through wrapping?

In her post Jacobs does offer the link for state-produced details on 2013-14 TOPS availability. Careful, though: The data for state-run RSD is mixed with non-state-run Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) and simply packaged as– you guessed it– “New Orleans.” Also, the TOPS eligibility is reported in percentages without corresponding actual counts– a beautiful optical illusion for making low actual numbers appear large (e.g., two out of three can become the more impressive “66 percent”).

Still, even via percentage reporting, it ain’t pretty for those state-run high schools. By the state’s own report, three RSD high schools have not a single student eligible for even TOPS two-year tech: Carver, ReNew Accel #1, Sophie B. Wright. Zero percent.

These same three had no students eligible for four-year TOPS (ACT composite of 20 required).

Four additional schools had no students eligible for four-year TOPS: Crescent Leadership Academy, ReNew Accel #2, Sarah T Reed, and Walter Cohen.

These data are from nine years following Katrina.

There is another snag hidden in this TOPS availability issue:

A student could have a four-year TOPS ACT composite of 20 and not have the 18 in English and 19 in math required for admission to a four-year college or university in Louisiana. These state-produced spreadsheets do not include such information critical for parents to know. I have written on the matter here and have included details based on data from the ACT information system.

Finally, Jacobs includes graduation rate information on– wait for it– combined OPSB and RSD. (I know, I know.) So reassuring to know that “graduation is up,” even if low ACT scores make in-state college attendance an impossibility for most, with that “most” hailing heavily from state-run, miracle RSD.

But never mind all that. Don’t look too closely and you, too, can conclude that The Reforms Are Working. Jacobs closes with the following goo-goo cluster:

Educate Now! echoes State Superintendent John White: We still have a long way to go, but the improvement has been enormous! 

Ahh, Leslie. These results are not a mark of “enormous improvement.” They are, however, concisely packaged to sell RSD.


*Within an hour of my publishing this post, this link went dead, and Jacobs sent a corrective email message stating that the TOPS data had not been updated. So, according to Jacobs, here is the state’s version of updated 2014 TOPS data for all schools in all districts. I will examine it and write a follow-up post….

… which now can be found here:



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

  1. Susanne P. Delaney permalink

    It’s amazing to see those scores. My son was taken out of Catholic school half way through seventh grade last year and we homeschooled from January 2014 until September 2014. He took the ACT February 2014 with mostly seniors just after staring to be homeschooled (It got old very quick) through the Duke Talent Search and scored a 19. I decided to put him in public school this school year in September 2014 so he could be exposed to a new world before high school. He was one that was going to be taken the NAEP test this week and I wasn’t to sure about it and didn’t say no by the deadline given. After reading your recent updates, (which are real blessings to me) I sent an email to the principal, whom we were to contact in the beginning and had him removed from the test. Now, the PARCC test is coming and I know some teachers are sweating it and it has rubbed off on the students. I’d like to opt him out of that one but, I do not know how.

  2. John permalink


    One thing that drives me crazy is when statistics are revealed without valid error estimates. I know that by adding the the decimal place (16.4), it’s supposed to mean plus or minus 0.1, but does it? Your story indicates that it does not, but that the one-tenth decimal place is simply added to make it appear to be a precise measurement. No ‘average’ ACT score could vary so much for a district unless the error measurement was far larger than the reported numbers suggest.

    Perhaps, as a statistician, you could address this problem on a future post.

    Love your work and devotion to the cause of educating future generations. Hang in there. I can’t say I ‘have your back’, but your information often helps me write a monthly column in our local (Tennessee) newspaper. Thanks.

    • John, the decimal place in this case is there because the score (a whole number) has been averaged across individuals. I do not have an error estimate for LDOE stats. Could probably find out for the ACT stats I posted from the ACT info system.

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