The academic picture improved for the Baton Rouge region this past year with all 12 public school districts improving their school-level results, beating the state as a whole, but a local business lobbying organization said too many schools remain sub-par.
“We need aggressive reforms to ensure all students in the region are receiving excellent educations,” concluded a report released Wednesday by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
The chamber supported Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping education changes approved by the Legislature in 2012. The business organization, however, opposed the attempt by residents of southeast Baton Rouge to break away and form an independent school district.
The report examines the 2012 academic data on 12 area school districts, the third such annual report from the chamber for school districts in the nine parishes of the capital region: East and West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Livingston, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, and East and West Feliciana parishes.
“A quality public education system is a critical part of growing the economy throughout the region’s nine parishes. Each year BRAC makes K-12 education a high priority and actively works for policies that support education reform,” said Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of BRAC. “We produced this report to give business leaders, citizens, and parents a snapshot of our education system’s performance last year.”
A rising tide, especially at the high school level, lifted all school districts in the region.
A year ago, only the Zachary district was rated an “A” district. This year, it remains tops in the state, but three other districts in the region now have A ratings, too: Central, West Feliciana and Ascension.
At the bottom of the scale, only St. Helena Parish earned an F grade, though it was the most improved of the 12 districts BRAC examined. The Iberville, East Feliciana, Pointe Coupee and Baker districts had D ratings.
East Baton Rouge Parish, the largest district with almost 43,000 students, improved from a D to a C. Yet because of its size, during the 2011-12 school year, East Baton Rouge had far more children in D or F schools — six out of 10 — than the entire Baton Rouge region, where just three of every 10 students attended D or F schools.
The districts are graded mostly on student performance on standardized tests. The state began giving districts and schools letter grades in 2011, replacing the hotel-style star ranking system.
“We are pleased the Baton Rouge Area Chamber continues to recognize the improvements occurring in East Baton Rouge public schools,” says a written, unnamed response from the parish school system’s communications office, adding that the district will continue “implementing innovative ideas to engage students and prepare them for the future.”
High schools were engines of academic growth in 2012. An Advocate analysis indicated 70 percent of Louisiana’s public high schools showed double-digit growth in school performance scores compared with just 2 percent of elementary and middle schools.
The state, however, has overhauled its school accountability system and high schools in particular will be measured differently.
For instance, 25 percent of a high school’s performance score in 2013 will come from student results on the ACT college placement exam. State and national ACT scores as well as those for many local districts have remained flat over the last four years, BRAC found.
Another warning sign is that, despite some modest improvement, three out of 10 students in the Baton Rouge region still are not graduating high school in four years.
That number rises to almost 4 out of 10 for East Baton Rouge Parish public schools. And more than half of those children are dropping out, more than the state as a whole and the Baton Rouge region, BRAC found.
Meg Mahoney, senior vice president of economic competitiveness at BRAC, said the changes may make it hard to compare 2013 results with past years.
“I think we can say that while we don’t know what the scores will look like, we are looking at what’s being tracked and what’s being measured,” Mahoney said.
ä On the Internet:
BRAC education report card