12 EBR schools improve performance

Twelve Baton Rouge public schools learned Thursday they have earned passing grades and no longer have Fs under Louisiana’s letter grade-based school accountability system.

“No, I wasn’t surprised,” said East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor, but then a broad smile broke across his face.

“But, boy was I happy.”

The school system learned of the preliminary results early Thursday afternoon in a letter from the Louisiana Department of Education.

Taylor made his comments at a quickly called news conference later in the afternoon.

The principals of 11 of the schools were present, though several of them took over during the 2012-13 school year or over the summer.

Another school, Inspire Charter Academy, a charter school sponsored by the school system, didn’t have a representative at the news conference.

All 12 schools now have Ds.

“We have a bet to see which one will be the first to earn a B,” Deputy Superintendent Michael Haggen said.

Taylor told the principals that schools will be expected to improve further.

“This must continue,” he said. “There’s no time to rest on our laurels. We’re going to celebrate this for at least another half an hour.”

Four schools, Capitol Elementary, Capitol Middle, Park Elementary and Winbourne Elementary, were under special agreements requiring fast improvement to avoid state takeover this school year.

Taylor gave everyone at those schools special credit.

Jessica Brister, principal of Park Elementary, said teachers shrugged off the bad labels, focusing instead on the students.

But to the extent the school’s bad label entered the discussion, the school tried to use it as a motivator.

“We challenged them to work to do better,” Brister said.

The state released preliminary school performance scores Thursday to school districts with low-performing public schools.

This annual release is required under federal law so schools in the pool of lowest-ranking schools can give parents a chance to transfer their children to higher-performing schools.

Unlike years past, the state has no plans to highlight these preliminary school performance scores publicly. The Advocate has requested the preliminary results.

The state plans to issue final school performance scores for all Louisiana public schools in October. These scores are largely based on standardized testing given in the spring.

The state has changed its school grading formula this year, including new factors, such as ACT scores for high schools. The new formula also has a new scale, from 0 to 150, with 50 dividing between passing and failure. The previous scale was from 0 to 200 with 75 and up a passing score.

East Baton Rouge Parish has been steadily chipping away at its ranks of lowest performing schools. Last year, 20 were labeled F school. This year, that number has shrunk to 11.

Of those 11, eight were F schools last year and remain so.

The twin Mentorship academy charter schools slipped from Ds to Fs, and one new school, Lee High, earned an F.

Taylor expressed concern over only one of those schools, Claiborne Elementary.

He predicted Claiborne, which has about 800 students, would improve its way out of danger as well in the next year.

Seven of the 10 remaining schools are either alternative schools or charter schools that the school district sponsored.

Two other low-performing schools, Delmont Elementary and Mayfair Middle, were closed in May to avert a possible state takeover and reopened as new schools. The parish school system is struggling with the state over whether these new schools should continue to be judged by those past results.

Finally, Lee High, has just one year of data and the school was judged strictly on standardized test scores from ninth- and 10th-graders. Lee lacks other data to feed into the school grading formula, including graduations rates.

That’s also true of the three relatively young charter schools, the Career Academy and the Mentorship academies, that haven’t yet had graduating classes.

Carnell Washington, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish Federation of Teachers and a former teacher and coach, said student success breeds more success.

“You can’t stop them once they know they can do stuff,” he said. “It’s like a faucet. Turn it on.”