Students have received letter grades for as long as anyone remembers. Everyone understands that A’s are the top and F’s indicate failure. In Louisiana, schools now receive letter grades.

Our Department of Education has recently published the letter grades of the schools in Louisiana. These letter grades are based on the annual numerical scores known as School Performance Scores (SPS).

Howard School, our alternative school located on the grounds of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home has a School Performance Score of 30.8. Of more than 1,300 schools in the state, only 21 schools in Louisiana have a lower score than Howard School. In letter grade terms, Howard School has an F-.

As President and CEO of Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services, I feel good about Howard School’s F-. That F- means Howard School is doing exactly what Howard School is designed to do. The teachers and faculty of Howard School care for some of the most emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children in Louisiana and they do it well.

Howard School Is a Remarkable School

Howard School is an exceptional facility designed for residents of Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home. Our residents are children who have been removed from their families because of physical or sexual abuse which was severe enough for a court to issue an order for the child’s removal from his or her family. Our children are in the custody of the state of Louisiana.

Before coming to Louisiana Methodist Children’s Home, most of our children have lived in multiple foster care and group home placements. A significant number have been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. This repeated psychiatric hospitalization is such a common phenomenon that the slang for it is “treat, street, repeat”. Our children are accustomed to chaotic lives.

Our children are transient. A girl admitted this week has attended four schools since this school year started six weeks ago! They are children without roots in any community.

Survival is their modus operandi. Most have moved so many times there has been no continuity in their educational experiences. Many of our high school students read at an elementary grade level. Our children are children who have rarely had good school experiences. They are children who have experienced multiple school failures. They are children who are desperate for the educational environment we have created at Howard School.

What Does Our F- Really Indicate?

School Performance Scores reflect two years of data and are calculated for K-6th grade schools using student test scores (90%) and attendance (10%). Schools with 7th and 8th graders receive an SPS based on attendance (5%), dropouts (5%) and student test scores (90%). High schools (grades 9-12) receive an SPS based on test scores (70%) and their Graduation Index (30%).

Notice how significantly weighted a school’s SPS score is toward student test scores! Depending on the grade level of the students, 70% to 90% of the SPS score is influenced by student test scores. For high schools, 70% is based on test scores and 30% is based on the school’s graduation index.

Regarding the graduation index, our high GED completion rate actually works against us. Our GED successes negatively impact Howard School’s SPS score! Here’s why: the 7 children who achieved their GED during the 2010 school year, the 5 who achieved their GED during the 2009 school year, and the 10-15 we expect to earn their GEDs at Howard School this year will be counted by the Department of Education as drop outs. Ding! Our successes drop our SPS score.

Howard School’s F- indicates our students do not score well on standardized tests. Of course, as a consequence of the chaotic young lives they have led, they would not.

Notice, too, what is not weighted into a school’s SPS score: our 98.5% school attendance rate, an evaluation of educators, the quality of the educational environment, our teacher to student ratio, the number of children with Individualized Educational Plans or Individualized Behavioral Plans. In other words, nothing about what makes Howard School the exceptional education center it is for severely troubled children factors into Howard School’s letter grade.

Because of the unique characteristics of our student population, Howard School will not receive good grades in Louisiana’s School Performance Score system. Receiving an F- indicates to me that our teachers and our program is focused on our mission. We serve children who are among “the least of these” and our teachers do it with passion and excellence!

Learn more about the remarkable Howard School

Rick Wheat, President and Chief Executive Officer
Louisiana United Methodist Children and Family Services

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