Bonus system boosts grade

Changes in the way the state calculates school performance scores, such as giving credit for struggling students who showed growth even if they did poorly on standardized tests, helped the Lafayette Parish School System maintain its B letter grade.

This year, the Louisiana Department of Education changed its formula from a 200-point scale to a 150-point scale and rewarded schools that boosted struggling students’ performance. Schools also could receive up to 10 bonus points for students who achieved significant gains on standardized tests — even if they didn’t pass them. The state released district and school performance scores based on the new formula on Thursday.

Without the bonus points, the Lafayette school district would have received a letter grade of C, said Tom Spencer, the school system’s director of accountability, research and evaluation.

The bonus point system also helped boost gains made at Alice Boucher Elementary, which based on preliminary scores released in August, was labeled as academically unacceptable list for its letter grade of F. A closer review of the school’s scores showed the state evaluated the wrong pool of students when it calculated whether the school qualified for bonus points, Spencer said.

For Boucher, the correct calculation of the bonus points helped pull them up to a D, Spencer said.

The new formula’s bonus point system rewards teachers for their hard work with struggling students, said Duson Elementary principal Katherine Rayburn. The school improved from a D to a C in the new system and also received “top gains” honors from the state because of its students’ growth.

“I’m at an 80 percent poverty school and my children can learn and they do,” Rayburn said. “Our students started with us at a lower level, but they met or exceeded the targets the state set for them.”

The district held a news conference early Friday afternoon to celebrate the hard work of students, faculty, staff, and parents.

Superintendent Pat Cooper asked the community to back the momentum of growth reflected in the performance scores. He credited the district’s turnaround plan for providing the support of data analysts, and instructional strategists who help teachers pinpoint student weaknesses and identify ways to help struggling students. The plan also created health and wellness teams on campuses to help troubleshoot and find solutions for issues that may prevent a student from learning in the classroom.

He said only 5 percent of the turnaround plan was funded this year and said public support will be needed to help the district’s progress continue. Next month, a volunteer committee is expected to recommend that board ask voters to support a combination of sales and property taxes to help fund the school system.

If the community wants academic progress to continue, the district needs its support, said School Board President Shelton Cobb.

“Great expectations need a little umph behind (them),” Cobb said.

When asked what it would take to move the district to an A rating, Cooper said it would take four years and about $8 million to $10 million annually to implement the rest of the turnaround plan and help every school in the district rate as an A school.