W. Feliciana schools celebrate gains

West Feliciana Parish teachers and students are celebrating gains made last school year in the state’s academic assessments, while preparing for a more rigorous test of their abilities at the end of the current year, the parish’s superintendent said.

West Feliciana, as a district, moved into the ranks of A-rated districts in the second year of the state’s letter-grade labeling program and maintained its position as the third-highest performing district in the state, behind Zachary and the Orleans Parish schools that are not in the state-run Recovery School District.

The state accountability results were released last month for the 2011-12 school year.

“We know there’s some new challenges coming,” Superintendent Hollis Milton said in a recent interview.

“But at the same time, we want to honor the hard work of all those teachers and students for this last year’s performance, because we’re very excited about what they’ve accomplished,” Milton said.

West Feliciana’s baseline district performance score, based on data from two years, was 124.3, compared with 114.2 last year.

The parish’s district performance score has not ranked below fourth place in the state since 2002.

“All of our schools met their growth targets, and that’s really a tremendous feat,” Milton noted.

The state Education Department had expected Bains Lower Elementary, Bains Elementary and West Feliciana High to increase their scores for 2011-12 by 2 points each, but the high school’s score was 9.6 points higher and the two elementary schools increased by 2.9 points.

The parish’s middle school exceeded its growth target of 3.2 points with a 5.9-point increase.

The state gave letter grades of A to the high school and Bains Lower Elementary for achieving their new baseline scores. West Feliciana High was tops with a score of 131.2, and the lower elementary was next with 121.2.

Bains Elementary and the middle school received B’s for their performance scores of 117 and 113.7, respectively.

A record number of Louisiana schools earned an A on this year’s report cards, with high schools showing the most gains.

Seventy percent of a high school’s score was based on results of end-of-course tests in core subjects, which have replaced the Graduate Exit Exams given to high school students for years.

Thirty percent of the high school score came from each school’s graduation index, which awards points to schools based on how well their students perform during four years of high school.

The next high school performance scores will be based equally on the school’s ACT test results, end-of-course scores, graduation index and graduation rate.

“For the high school, it’s a great celebration to say, that under the old rules — and the old rules were legitimate — we were already hitting very well, especially in those end-of-course tests,” Milton said. “But the change from moving from GEE and having more weight on EOC, just elevated us even more. So, it’s a time for celebration.”

The grading process also will change next year for elementary and middle schools.

“The changes will create a new baseline for us, and that’s one thing we’d like the community to know: that we’re doing really well, we’ve hit an all-time high. But we also know that there are some new rules and some new baselines that we’re going to have to really look at,” Milton said.

“It’s like if we decided for football next year, a field goal is worth 2 points, a touchdown is 5 points and you’re going to have to gain 13 yards for a first down. That’s what’s happening,” said Steve Comfort, who analyzes the district’s accountability data.

“It takes us awhile to learn them and internalize them, much less communicate it to the community,” Milton said of the frequent accountability changes.

“We could have a lot of success with it,” he added, “but it may not look like it did this year.”