Tyler: Standards get results

Barbara Freiberg, left, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, shakes hands with Ollie Tyler, acting state superintendent of education, shortly before a Volunteers In Public Schools luncheon Thursday at Juban’s Restaurant. Behind them are, from left, Verni Howard, president of the VIPS board of directors, and Sharon Southall, right, executive management officer with the state Department of Education. Show caption
Barbara Freiberg, left, president of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, shakes hands with Ollie Tyler, acting state superintendent of education, shortly before a Volunteers In Public Schools luncheon Thursday at Juban’s Restaurant. Behind them are, from left, Verni Howard, president of the VIPS board of directors, and Sharon Southall, right, executive management officer with the state Department of Education.

Acting Louisiana Superintendent of Education Ollie Tyler told an audience of Baton Rouge business and community leaders Thursday that school accountability is showing results.

Tyler noted that in 1999, when the state first began administering the LEAP test, 45 percent of students were considered “proficient,” meaning they performed at or above grade level in the key tested subjects.

Now, about 67 percent of students are considered proficient, she said.

“That represents remarkable success for children who sorely need it,” Tyler said.

Tyler, a former superintendent of Caddo Parish public schools, shared billing Thursday with top officials from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system at the luncheon, sponsored by the nonprofit group Volunteers In Public Schools.

Tyler pointed out the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, the second largest in the state, has in the past four years seen its proficiency rate improve faster than the state as a whole.

“That’s impressive and I want to congratulate you all,” Tyler said.

“You share the belief that we must and we can do better,” she added.

The compliment stood in contrast to the often adversarial approach of Tyler’s predecessor, Paul Pastorek, who many times found fault publicly with the parish school system.

Tyler, who took over from Pastorek in May, told the crowd that having almost one-third of students statewide not performing at grade level remains a big problem.

The answer, she said, is what the state is already doing, raising the minimum standards.

“When we raise our expectations, our students perform better,” she said.

She mentioned two changes that are under way.

One is the minimum school performance scores increased from 60 to 65 last year, and are increasing again this year from 65 to 75.

Tyler noted the increase to 65 has meant more schools are in corrective action, but she said even reaching that level is still unacceptable.

“Thirty-eight percent of the students in those schools aren’t on grade level,” she said.

The other change Tyler highlighted is that schools are now starting to get classroom-style letter grades rather than hotel-like star ratings.

“We are confident that we will see schools genuinely rise to the occasion,” she said.

The luncheon was also supposed to feature East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent John Dilworth.

Dilworth, however, canceled, instead heading to Arkansas after learning that one of his sisters had died, said Chris Trahan, spokesman for the school system.

Speaking in his place was Katie Blunschi, assistant superintendent for middle schools. Also on the bill was School Board President Barbara Freiberg, who updated the audience on the school system’s progress rewriting its strategic plan and its search for a superintendent to replace Dilworth when his contract ends in June.

Freiberg said she remains an optimist despite the obstacles the school system faces.

“If I didn’t believe we can change our schools, I would never have run for this job,” said Freiberg, who was elected in 2010.