Sept. 3, 2014 01:38 PM

Tom Spencer, LPSS director of accountability, research and evaluation, disputes data used by former school board member for an opinion piece in Saturday's Advertiser.

[Editor's Note: The following letter, penned by Tom Spencer, Lafayette Parish School System's director of accountability, research and evaluation, disputes data used by former school board member Mike Hefner in an opinion piece published in Saturday's Daily Advertiser on the investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper.]

As the Lafayette Parish School System employee most familiar with school and district performance, I was quite puzzled by Mr. Hefner's numbers in his recent letter about the Cooper investigation. Dr. Cooper arrived in January 2012. The reorganization triggered by the "100% In, 100% Out" Turnaround Plan began to be implemented in July 2012. Any school or district performance data attributable to Pat Cooper begins in academic year 2012-13.

Graduation cohort data are "scrubbed" for over a year before they are used in accountability. No "clean" graduation data since Cooper took over has been released, yet.

So, Mr. Hefner is citing graduation and dropout data from the previous administration's final year. Half of our schools were above the state average, not one, and the district was 1.4 percent below the state. We do have preliminary data for the 2013 graduating class that indicates four of our six high schools had graduation rates improve as did the district. The accuracy of the state's numbers has been legitimately questioned in recent years, so judging success is not best accomplished by such comparisons.

From day one, Cooper has said that we would never be tops in four year graduation rates. We were going to keep kids in school, regardless of if they would graduate in four years. If they were on a GED, or skills certificate, or certificate of achievement track, then we would keep them until they "completed." We'd expect dropouts to decrease but graduation would not increase at the same rate. The state is not consistently reporting these data, but the quoted 4.9 percent and 5.7 percent dropout rates are from 2010 and 2012, before Cooper had his reorganization in place. Those are "event rate dropouts" collected in a single year. A 5 percent dropout rate for a class, freshman through senior year is equivalent to an 18.5 percent cohort dropout rate. The actual numbers in terms of the 4 year cohort (using preliminary 2013 data) are:

District performance scores have never been given in percentages. There would be no reason to. With the accountability system undergoing major revisions each year since 2011, overall scores are not comparable from one year to the next. Mentioning the performance of our neighboring parish, LPSS ranked 19th in the state in 2013, the highest ranking in 5 years and there was a 21.5 percent point difference.

J.W. Faulk has not operated under a five year plan (other than the facilities plan, which wasn't funded), though Alice Boucher Elementary did. The 30 point drop in Faulk's score is a direct result of the state accountability system moving from a 200 point scale to a 150 point scale. It is ridiculous to ignore the changes in the accountability system over the past three years. One year's results are not directly comparable to the next.

Considering Mr. Hefner's profession, I find it hard to believe he would be so careless with numbers. Odds are someone provided numbers to him, maybe one of those folks who texts information to the board members during meetings. The corrections I provide can easily be confirmed on the Louisiana Department of Education's website. The exception is the 2013 graduation/dropout data. It should be public information in a couple of months.

Tom Spencer is the director of accountability, research and evaluation for the Lafayette Parish School System.


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