Public schools make computer gains

Rules mandate at least one computer for every seven students

State Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday that 86 percent of public school students are attending schools that meet minimum computer requirements.

In addition, 38 school districts meet the new guidelines, up from five a year ago, state officials said.

Under new rules, all of Louisiana’s 70 school districts are supposed to reach seven to one ratios for online access, which means at least one computer or similar device for every seven students.

The improvements are to be in place for the 2014-15 school year, and in time for students to take online tests as part of a national push for more rigorous classes, which is called common core.

“I am thrilled today to say that our districts are really responding to that challenge,” White told reporters. “They are making investments and working very hard, as evidenced by today’s results.”

The issue sparked controversy last week at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Ascension Parish Superintendent Patrice Pujol, who is also president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, told BESE that there are widespread concerns among school leaders about meeting the deadline, especialy in rural parishes.

Many of the school systems that have not met minimum computer requirements are in less populated areas.

But White said that just because a school system has a modest population does not mean it cannot comply with the new rules.

He noted that the St. Helena Parish school system, one of the poorest in the state, is also one of eight districts with three to one ratios for computer access.

The East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Iberville districts made the same list.

The St. James Parish school system has achieved a one to one ratio for its students.

School districts that meet five to one ratios include the West Feliciana, Central and St. Charles school systems.

Those that meet the seven to one requirement include the St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Assumption parishes school districts.

Zachary School District Superintendent Scott Devillier, who was part of a group that met with White on Wednesday, said superintendents have concerns about the minimum computer requirements.

“It is just how to get there financially,” he said of superintendent worries.

Devillier said he thinks his school system has about an eight to one ratio now and will be in compliance by the deadline.

The Orleans Parish School District has not meet the standards.

Officials of the state Department of Education said they have offered support to districts through technology consulting services and advice on how federal and state funds can be used for the upgrades.

White said the push for technology improvements transcends any single day of testing.

“I don’t think that you can say it is about tests alone,” White said. “That is part of it, but the idea that we are debating if technology is a good investment is wrong.”