Sci Academy recognized by Oprah Winfrey

In a recent opinion published in The Hill, Senator Landrieu talks about the role of Charter Schools.   I agree that there is a need for a variety of schools, but I was disturbed by an example from New Orleans used by Senator Landrieu.

Landrieu says:

“The city’s Sci Academy is one remarkable example of a successful charter school. Sci Academy opened in 2008 with 90 ninth-graders entering a rigorous and inspiring environment. More than half of the ninth-graders who entered Sci Academy’s inaugural class had failed state promotional tests, and more than 70 percent read well below the ninth-grade level. Many of these students had missed a full year of school because of Hurricane Katrina and were significantly behind other students their age. Incredibly, that same freshman class later scored a 76 percent on our state test, making it the third most successful high school in New Orleans.”


Perhaps  Sen. Landrieu should  look  deeper into the data related to the inaugural class of Sci Academy.   Basically, the school started off with 83 students in it’s inaugural year.  That first class cohort drop to a population of 63 in the second year of existence.  By the third year of existence, the enrollment dropped to 45 students.    Where did these students go?  Do we know the performance level of those who left?  Were they higher or lower scoring students?
Furthermore, while Sci Academy started the year off with a student body enrollment  of 83 students,  they only tested 67/68  students in  English Language Arts and Math respectively  for the state’s spring  iLEAP test.   Where did  16  of those students go by testing time?  Sen. Landrieu says half of these “90″ students had failed the state’s promotional test.  She said these same freshmen later score a 76% on the state test.  This is very confusing since our state test scores are not reported in terms of percentages.    Not only is it inaccurate to say these same students scored a 76% on the state test, it’s inaccurate to say that these “same” students scored anything on the state test since 16  of the students no longer appear  at the school.  If these students were at the school,  why were’t they administered the 9th grade iLEAP?    We don’t know the performance level of the students who mysteriously disappeared from Sci Academy’s rolls by testing time.  We can assume that the scores of those missing students would have an impact on the apparent success or lack of success of Sci Academy during it’s first year.
When looking at Sci Academy’s data we do find that 12 students were tested using the 8th grade LEAP test.  It’s safe to say that these 12 students  came to Sci Academy having failed the state’s promotional tests, but were promoted on waivers to the 9th grade since state enrollment data does not indicate that Sci Academy enrolled any 8th grade students in it’s inaugural year.    If these 12 students took the  8th grade LEAP rather than the 9th grade  iLEAP, that could account for 12 of the missing students from Sci Academy’s testing roll for the spring iLEAP.  If these 12 students also took the spring iLEAP, then there are only 12 students who failed the state’s test and we know that 12 students of 83  is not 70%.
Sen. Landrieu should double check her facts regarding the performance level of the inaugural class.  Generally, you can’t enter 9th grade if you have failed the state’s 8th grade LEAP test unless you enter as a waiver student.   The Sci Academy miracle  is  often repeated as an example of the success of charter schools in New Orleans, but there are various inaccuracies in the Sci Academy  story as told by Sen. Landrieu.
Sen.Landrieu’s poor grasp of the facts surrounding Sci Academy brings up the  very real issue of the lack of independent review of the charter school movement in Louisiana.  We need an independent entity to make sure Senators and ordinary citizens have access to accurate data in an easy to read format so that they can see for themselves if this charter school movement is successful.   I urge Senator Landrieu to refrain from promoting unproven education reform strategies  such as charters and help provide greater funding for studying  such  reforms to determine their effectiveness.
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