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If State Takeover of New Orleans Schools Worked, ACT Scores Below 16 Wouldn’t be Embarrassing.

August 12, 2017

In 2003, the Louisiana legislature created a state-run Recovery School District (RSD) that allowed the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to assume control over schools with a school performance score (SPS) of 60 or below.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, and in November 2005, the Louisiana legislature used such destruction to assume control of even more schools by raising the failing school score to an SPS below the then-current average of 87.4. (For more on the RSD history, see this post.)

Note that a key component in SPS calculation is the standardized test score. On the high school level, one such test score is the ACT, which has been administered to all juniors beginning with the 2012-13 school year. Moreover, 100 percent of Louisiana’s Class of 2013 took the ACT.

An overarching goal of state takeover of Louisiana schools was for the state to assume control of most New Orleans public schools– which it did in 2005– and to convert all of those formerly local-board-run schools into charter schools– which it did by May 2014.

Louisiana’s RSD New Orleans (RSD-NO) was an experiment, one that was supposed to “turn around” those failing schools and make the RSD charter conversion a modern-day miracle.

By 2017– twelve years post-Katrina– it is clear that the experiment has failed. There is no incredible test-score-based miracle, and in no place is such failure more obvious than in the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO in general and its high schools individually.

The remainder of this post offers a close examination of the average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO, where the miracle-producing engine has stalled.

no miracles

On August 09, 2017, the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) released the Class of 2017 average ACT composite scores by school and school district.

What is not included among the released school and district scores is a Class of 2017 average ACT composite score for the New Orleans high schools that were taken over by the state post-Katrina and which comprised the Recovery School District, New Orleans (RSD-NO).

In fact, the LDOE Class of 2016 average ACT composite score file also fails to include a separate score for RSD-NO high schools.

In May 2016, the Louisiana legislature voted to begin returning RSD-NO schools to the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB), a decision that provided a convenient reason for Louisiana state superintendent John White to stop reporting the annual average ACT composite scores for RSD-NO as a separate score.

Beginning with the Class of 2012, the state-reported average ACT composite score for RSD-NO high schools has been an embarrassment, making state takeover arguably a difficult sell for the likes of a corporate reformer like White.

White was never able to tout RSD-NO high schools as having an average ACT composite that even reached as low as 17.0.

In fact, the best RSD-NO average ACT composite score happened several years ago, in 2012, when RSD-NO reached 16.8.

In order to offer some context regarding the meaning of ACT composite values, note that in order for a high school graduate to gain unconditional admission to Louisiana State University (LSU), she/he must have an ACT composite score of 22.

Then, by LDOE’s own reporting, it dropped to 16.3 in 2013. (See Louisiana reform voice Leslie Jacobs downplay the 2013 ACT drop to 16.3 in this New Orleans Miracle sales pitch.)

And up it came modestly in 2014, to 16.4. That year, White did not release Louisiana’s composite ACT scores at all. I released them in January 2015, with the assistance of someone in higher ed who became tired of waiting on White. Within days of my release– which had RSD-NO high schools at 15.7 for an average Class of 2014 composite– White released his 16.4.

Comparison of his numbers to the ones I obtained begs for an audit. But for now, let’s go with White’s 16.4, which is nothing to showboat– and which sure does appear to be a key reason that White did not release the scores in a timely manner in the first place.

In 2015, LDOE reported that RSD-NO’s average ACT composite was 16.6. And before the time came for a Class of 2016 ACT score release, the Louisiana legislature decided to begin sending RSD-NO schools back to OPSB. Of course, since those RSD-NO schools are now charter schools, their “return” to OPSB isn’t the same as if the schools were traditional public schools, as Danielle Dreilinger reported in May 2016 in

The Louisiana Legislature is ready to close a chapter in New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina history. Both the Senate and House have voted to reverse the 2005 state takeover of most of the city’s public schools. …

But the re-unified school system won’t be the same as the old days. In the past decade, the Recovery system has become a realm of independent charter schools, mini-kingdoms run by non-profit, non-elected boards. Those boards will continue to reign after the transition, making their own decisions but to meet the Orleans Parish School Board’s benchmarks. Currently they report to the Recovery district, which is a unit of the state Education Department, and to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Even though OPSB will be overseeing the now-returning RSD-NO schools in market-driven-reform, “portfolio” style, which adds a layer of bureaucracy that complicates oversight, such a return is a real gift to John White.

White will be able to better conceal the RSD-NO ACT-score embarrassment by averaging RSD-NO high schools with those of OPSB and never, ever have to report a separate average ACT composite score on those RSD-NO high schools ever again.

From 2012 to 2015, LDOE reported OPSB and RSD-NO average ACT scores separately, but it also reported them combined, which helped to draw attention away from just how low the RSD-NO high school ACT composite scores were.

And the RSD-NO average composites, which were themselves low (ranging from 16.3 to 16.8 over the four-year span of 2012 to 2015) actually helped conceal the fact that a number of RSD-NO high schools continued to have ACT composite scores below 16, and that many RSD-NO school ACT composites from year to year continue to be erratic:

RSD-NO High School


ACT 2017 ACT 2016 ACT 2015 ACT 2014 ACT 2013 ACT 2012
Lake Area 16.4 17.1 16.8 16.2 16.2 17.2
The NET 14.3 14.6 14 13 12.5 N/A
Crescent 14.2 14.1 14.3 14.4 ~ N/A
ReNEW WB 14 14.5 13.9 ~ 12.7 ~
Sci Acad 18.4 17.8 19.7 18.2 18.8 20
G.W. Carvr 16.7 17.9 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Cohen CPrp 18 17.8 17.8 18.7 N/A N/A
Landr Walk 16.3 16 15.7 17.8 17.7 20.1
Algiers Tech 15.6 15.9 16.6 14.9 15.5 17.1
SophieWright 18.1 17.9 18.8 17.1 18.5 17.8
KIPP Renais 18.3 19.4 18.5 17.9 N/A N/A
JosephClark 15.9 15.9 15.4 14.2 14.9 15.4
Dr. MLK 16.8 17.5 17.7 15.3 15.5 15.9

If indeed state takeover of RSD-NO high schools made a substantial difference to testing outcomes (the preferred measure of success promoted by corporate reform), then that difference would arguably manifest itself in some sort of consistent, upward trend in RSD-NO ACT scores across years for most RSD-NO high schools.

Such evidence simply does not exist. If it did, you best believe John White would be broadcasting it.

Instead, he is left to combine RSD-NO and OPSB high schools in order to produce a more publicly-palatable average ACT composite. However, even this will get old because the RSD-NO high schools’ low ACT composites are now producing what appears to be a stagnant RSD-NO-OPSB combined composite that cannot break a modest 19.0 average composite:

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Orleans All (OPSB & RSD NO) 18.9 18.9 18.8 18.4 18.2 18.8

Below are the ACT composite scores for OPSB without RSD-NO, from 2012 to 2015 (LDOE did not report OPSB separately from RSD-NO in 2016 and 2017):

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
OPSB w/o RSD-NO 21.0 20.5 19.7 19.5

In contrast to erratic- and low-scoring RSD-NO, non-state-run OPSB high schools did show a steady, upward trend in average ACT composite scores.

One could argue that many OPSB schools are selective admission schools that did not fit the state’s definition of “failing” in the first place and therefore should not be compared to the state-run RSD-NO schools.

However, state turnover does not get off so easily.

The point of state takeover is to “turn around” failing schools, and after over a decade, such turn-around should be clearly evident in state-run RSD-NO ACT scores. But it isn’t, not by a long, long shot.

State takeover of RSD-NO high schools did not successfully “turn around” those schools. Indeed, such failure is profoundly underscored by the fact that RSD-NO “success” cannot be marketed without concealing RSD-NO ACT scores behind that combined, OPSB-RSD-NO ACT score averaging.

And even combined, RSD-NO-OPSB continues to unsuccessfully reach for an average ACT composite of 19.0.

Not exactly the substance of miracles.

missed target


Want to read about the history of charter schools and vouchers?

School Choice: The End of Public Education? 

school choice cover  (Click image to enlarge)

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of two other books: A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education and Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?. You should buy these books. They’re great. No, really.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

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