EBR public schools get high marks for technology gains

The East Baton Rouge Parish school system is one of the leaders statewide in technology improvements over the past six months, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.

State figures show that 72 of 73 schools in the district meet minimum standards in advance of new online testing and 46 schools meet the preferred and higher standard.

One of the key drivers in the improvements is tougher classes, and online testing that will follow, which are set to start during the 2014-15 school year in Louisiana and most other states.

The upgraded curriculum, which is called common core standards, is designed to give students more in-depth knowledge of key subjects to make them more competitive with their peers worldwide.

It will also make state-to-state comparisons of student achievement easier.

The superintendent said 17 of Louisiana’s 69 school districts now show varying levels of readiness for the new tests.

In July just five did so, including the Ascension Parish school system.

The minimum standard includes one computer for every seven students.

The higher standard is one computer for every three students.

Jesse Noble, chief technology officer for East Baton Rouge Parish public schools, said Thursday the district has expanded its internet bandwidth and taken other steps to accommodate online tests.

Noble said financial aid from a Federal Communications Commission program to aid schools and libraries with Internet access made the technology improvements possible.

Otherwise “we would not be able to do what we are doing,” he said.

Districts that meet the highest standards include the Ascension and St. James school systems, according to the state Department of Education.

Those meeting minimum standards include the East Baton Rouge, Assumption, St. Tammany and Tangipahoa school systems.

White said the upgrades are transforming a public school system that recently would have been recognizable to someone in the 19th century to one that more resembles the 21st century.

“A big part of that is equipping schools with appropriate technology, including computers and wiring for the internet,” he said.

White said an often-cited stumbling block for improvements is a lack of money.

He said the state is offering contracts that allow school districts to band together to buy computer and other equipment, which trims costs.

White said the result is that districts will be able to buy desktop computers for $418 and laptops for $486.

All the improvements have to be in place by the start of the 2014-15 school year, when tougher courses and online tests are launched.

“In part this is driven by an uncompromising deadline, where all state assessments will be online, which means there really isn’t a choice any longer,” White said.