Last month, the Lafayette Parish School System received its new student performance grade from the state and the district improved by nearly 12 points, rising from a C to a B.
The district, meanwhile, has a plan to boost its grade to an A within the next six years through recommendations that target all students, programs and district operations.
But a major stumbling block for the district is its high number of students who have repeated two or more grades, Sandra Billeaudeau, the district’s assistant superintendent, said during the School Board’s Oct. 27 retreat.
The district has 937 students in grades K-12 who have been retained for at least two years, Billeaudeau said.
“That, in my opinion, is probably one of the reasons why we take two steps forward and it feels like we’re taking five steps back. That’s a whole school,” she said of the number of overage students. “That’s a K-8 school. That’s as large as some of our elementary schools.”
Those 937 students were held back because they didn’t grasp the skills they needed to move the next grade level.
The majority of these overage students — 610 of them — are in middle school.
Many of these students are retained in kindergarten and repeat the grade without any special attention or focus given to the skills they lacked in their first go-around of the class, Billeaudeau said.
“What we haven’t done very well, we haven’t looked at that kid’s needs and developed an educational plan according to his or her needs. We just have him repeat kindergarten,” Billeaudeau said.
The district is changing that mind set by revamping its early childhood education programs. This year, it created a developmental kindergarten program to assist those students who need additional help with the skills most young children entering kindergarten have already mastered. The program is offered at Alice Boucher Elementary and J.W. Faulk Elementary, and most parents whose children were identified as potential participants in the program have enrolled their children, school officials have said.
“Early childhood (education) absolutely is the key,” Billeaudeau told board members during the retreat.
Addressing a student’s deficiencies in kindergarten helps build a stronger foundation of skills that leads to greater success for the child, Billeaudeau said.
Interventions in elementary school to identify and help students with deficiencies and stronger alternative-education programs in middle schools are two areas the district can focus to help struggling students, she said.
The district already has two accelerated programs that help overage students catch up academically with their peers, but space is limited in both programs.
Additional funding is needed to redevelop and strengthen alternative education classes in middle schools, Billeaudeau said.
During the retreat, board President Shelton Cobb asked if the district has the resources it needs to target overage students.
“I guess everything comes down to money,” Cobb said. “Are we developing a plan to ask for what we need?”
Funding is the key need to turn strategies into action, Billeaudeau said in a later interview. Without that action, she said, the 937 students are at risk of being lumped into another statistic — the district’s 30 percent drop-out rate.
Marsha Sills covers education for The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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