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Advocate Reporter Will Sentell Misreports Louisiana TOPS Accomplishment, Refuses to Correct

April 12, 2018

The same day that the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released scores embarrassing to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) headed by state superintendent John White– April 10, 2018– LDOE ostensibly attempted to counter the negative press with this press release about 52 percent of 2017 graduates being eligible for TOPS (Taylor Opportunity Scholarship Program).

The minimum ACT composite score for TOPS eligibility is 17. However, TOPS has four levels, the condiitons of which are linked in the LDOE press release:

According to the LDOE press release, a total of 19,220 graduates (52%) were eligible for TOPS in 2017. The breakdown is as follows:

  • 5,103 (14%) TOPS Tech (min ACT: 17)
  • 6,662 (18%) TOPS Opportunity (min ACT: 20)
  • 4,235 (11%) TOPS Performance (min ACT: 23)
  • 3,220 (9%) TOPS Honors (min ACT: 27)

Therefore, according to the information above, 14,117 (38%) of 2017 graduates were TOPS eligible due to meeting a minimum ACT composite score of 20. (This number is calculated by subtracting the 5,103 students qualifying for TOPS Tech.)

On April 10, 2018, Will Sentell of the Advocate published an article on the issue. However, he misleads readers to believe that the minimum ACT composite for TOPS is 20, not 17– an error that makes Louisiana’s 2017 grads look like they fared better on the ACT than they actually did.

IMG_1030  Will Sentell

From Sentell’s article:

For the first time, more than half of Louisiana’s high school graduating class qualified for the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, state officials announced Tuesday morning.

A total of 52 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2017 were eligible for TOPS, the first such class in state history.

TOPS pays for tuition and other costs for students who meet the academic requirements.

Students have to earn a 20 on the ACT, which measures college readiness, and a 2.5 GPA on their high school core curriculum to qualify.

The more than 19,200 students who meet the standard for TOPS is also the highest ever, according to data from the Louisiana Board of Regents.

That was up from 18,373 in 2016.

The number of TOPS qualifiers is also up 18 percent since 2012.

In addition, the number of students who qualified in each TOPS category also rose in 2017.

About 52,000 students get the assistance.

The most common form of TOPS is called TOPS Opportunity.

Others are TOPS Honors, TOPS Performance and TOPS Tech.

“The increase in the number of students who are eligible to receive TOPS scholarships is another testament to the great work happening in K-12 classrooms across the state to prepare our students for success after high school,” state Superintendent of Education John White said in a statement.

Sentell’s article utterly lacks the clarity that those 19,220 students (52%) include the 5,103 (14%) with a minimum ACT composite of 17. Thus, readers of this article may reasonably (and wrongly) believe that 19,220 of Louisiana’s 2017 graduates (52%) have scored an ACT composite of 20.

I emailed Sentell about this error.

He refuses to correct it.

Below is our exchange (begin reading from bottom):

Re: error in TOPS article
From: Mercedes Schneider <>
To: wsentell <>
Date: Wed, April 11, 2018 9:31 am


As it stands, your article is misleading. It leads readers to believe that the baseline for TOPS is an ACT composite of 20.

–Mercedes Schneider

—–Original Message—–
From: Sentell, Will <>
To: Mercedes Schneider <>
Sent: Wed, Apr 11, 2018 8:50 am
Subject: RE: error in TOPS article

Accurate for most common form of TOPS. Did not spell out requirements for other three categories either.

From: Mercedes Schneider <>
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 8:05 AM
To: Sentell, Will <>
Subject: error in TOPS article

Will, re:

“Students have to earn a 20 on the ACT, which measures college readiness, and a 2.5 GPA on their high school core curriculum to qualify.”


Wrong info.

Minimum ACT is 17 (TOPS Tech).

5,100 of those 19,220 students have an ACT of 17.

See LDOE press release:

–Mercedes Schneider

Sentell selects the minimum ACT criteria for the second category and presents it as the minimum, period, and he excuses himself for creating a lie.

The question is whether Sentell is either just too lazy to correct a critical error or intentionally desires to deceive his readers by promoting an inflated LDOE accomplisment on the heels of this Sentell article about Louisiana’s 2017 NAEP flop.

Feel free to ask him.

question marks


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

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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.

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  1. LA Educator permalink

    The local media is so bought and they know what their owners like. Every time I hear promos for local news claiming to be “free of the bias” I want to yell out loud, and sometimes, I do. Hopefully, the charmed life of John White in Louisiana won’t last forever.

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