BATON ROUGE - The first sets of public school performance scores under a new grading system showed record improvement, according to state education officials.

The Louisiana Department of Education said 43 percent of the state's public schools received an "A" or "B" grade under the new accountability ratings.

Zachary Community District had the highest district score of 136 out of 150, and the number of failing scores dropped from 12 percent to 8 percent.

The new formula assigns a letter grade to schools based on their scores. Scores at or above 100 earn an "A" and scores below 50 earn an "F," and the information will be provided on a revamped school report card that the state hopes will make it easier for parents to see how well the school performs.

The system also changes how scores are figured, with more of an emphasis on skills students will need in college or careers. These include factoring in students' ACT scores, since all high school students are now required to take the college prep exam.

"Changes made to the formula have led to real increases in student achievement," said Superintendent John White. "Students are reaping the benefits: fewer failing schools, higher graduation rates, more college credit earned, and more students qualifying for college admissions."

Teachers' unions in Louisiana which have been critical of the new scoring system issued a statement today calling it a gimmick. The president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Steve Monaghan, said the system doesn't take into account individual schools' missions.

"Stamping a label on a school does nothing to improve education," Monaghan said. "Schools with a high letter grade learn nothing about their achievement. In those labeled F, children are stigmatized, teachers are frustrated and communities are defamed."

The LFT wants school grades to be based on condition of school facilities, whether the school is safe and orderly, the health and economic vitality of the surrounding community, the availability of instructional materials in the school, teacher and staff retention, and the physical and emotional health of the student population.