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36 percent of La. public schools graded A or B

Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - About 36 percent of Louisiana's public schools earned grades of A or B in the state's latest round of performance rankings, with more schools reaching the highest grades, according to data released Monday by Superintendent of Education John White.

"Schools across Louisiana continue to make progress, which means more children are gaining the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and careers," White said.

But as the number of schools hitting the A and B grade level increased from 28 percent, the number of schools receiving an F grade also grew from 9 percent to 12 percent.

White blamed the increase in failing schools on a more rigorous standard, which set the bar higher for a school to receive a D on the grading scale.

"The increase is due exclusively to the rise in the threshold," he said.

When combined, 36 percent of the state's public schools received a D or an F grade, compared to 44 percent last year. Twenty-eight percent of schools were graded a C.

The scoring system, on a 200-point scale, is based nearly entirely on standardized test scores in elementary and middle schools. At the high school level, the test scores make up the bulk of the performance scoring system while also weighing graduation rates.

Statewide, a large portion of schools continued to improve. Out of nearly 1,300 public schools, 983 had higher performance scores, about 76 percent.

But the state's overall grade was mid-range, a C.

Zachary Community Schools, in the Baton Rouge area, was the highest-performing school district.

Six other school districts also received an A grade, including West Feliciana Parish, Central Community Schools, Plaquemines Parish, St. Tammany Parish, Ascension Parish and the New Orleans schools still run by the local school board and not the state.

Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol credited her district's nearly 10 percent scoring improvement over last year to "implementing high standards for students, coupled with high standards for educators."

Two districts were given failing grades: St. Helena Parish and the state-run Recovery School District schools outside of New Orleans. But those school districts also saw some of the largest improvements in their performance scores, increasing 24 percent and 15 percent respectively.

New Orleans schools run by the Recovery School District were graded a D, but the district had an 11 percent improvement in its performance score over last year - and a 49 percent growth in its score since 2008, the biggest improvement over the four-year span.

This is the second year letter grades were assigned to individual schools and districts, in addition to the numerical performance score, under a change pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and backed by lawmakers in 2010.

About a third of the schools, 440 of them, improved enough to be designated a "Top Gains" school, which means they'll split up a $4 million pool of reward money for their educational use.

White cautioned, however, that schools will have to work harder to continue showing improvement in next year's scores, as the state is toughening its testing standards over several years.

"Schools will have to continue to up their game if they are going to maintain this level of high performance," he said.

The performance improvements don't include the effects of a new statewide voucher program Jindal pushed through the Legislature, which began after the testing that determined the most recent round of performance scores and letter grades.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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