Accountability changes concern school officials

Ascension Parish School District officials are concerned about coming changes to accountability standards in the state’s high schools.

Jennifer Tuttleton, the director for school improvement in the parish, said Ascension Parish schools showed “unprecedented growth” in last year’s scores, which earned the parish an A grade and placed it seventh overall in the state.

Tuttleton praised the progress that the school district has made during the past five years.

“We have narrowed the achievement gap between white students and African-American students, which has been a goal of ours for years,” Tuttleton said.

However, she also cautioned about how the coming changes could affect some of that progress on school performance scores.

For the first time all juniors and seniors in the state will take the ACT, a standardized test that typically has been used for college admission. Beginning next year, however, the test scores of all seniors will count for one-quarter of a school’s performance score.

“I think the ACT aspect is going to be a big hurdle,” School Board member Troy Gautreau said.

“We’re very cognizant of the challenge we’re facing with the ACT,” Tuttleton said.

David Alexander, the district’s director of high schools, said about 65 to 75 percent of last year’s senior class in the parish took the ACT, and those students scored an average of 20.6, a figure that is above the state average.

Students must score an 18 on the test in order to receive any points in the new school performance score formula, Tuttleton said. The ACT score points will be calculated along with how students perform on end-of-course tests and the schools’ cohort graduation rate and graduation index.

The cohort graduation rate is the percentage of students who graduate high school in four years, while the graduation index offers points based upon the level of courses that students take during high school.

“This is the measurement of are we meeting these new standards,” Superintendent Patrice Pujol said.

Tuttleton, who said she believes the addition of ACT scores to state accountability standards will assist school districts in transitioning to the coming Common Core State Standards, admitted the shift presents a “daunting task” for district officials. However, she said it’s one that will affect every district in the state.

“If nobody else is prepared, Ascension will be,” she said.