Once again, the Capital region is leading the way in academic rankings with three of the top four public school districts in Louisiana, while the state as a whole improved from a C to a B letter grade, according to annual school academic results released Tuesday by the state.
The rankings are district report cards for 70 school systems for the 2016-17 school year, which ended in May. The district scores were accompanied by school report cards for 1,276 individual public schools across Louisiana. And for the first time, Louisiana released ratings, or “performance profiles,” on 1,508 child care centers across the state.
The report cards size up how public schools are doing academically. That's largely on the basis of standardized test scores for elementary and middle schools. At the high school level, they also measure graduation rates and the rigor of academic coursework
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Despite slipping slightly, Zachary topped the rankings as it has for years and remains well ahead of rival districts. Zachary earned 115.6 points of out of a possible 150 points. Any school or district scoring 100 and above earns an A.
Like Zachary, Central schools slipped a bit. That was enough to drop the suburban Baton Rouge district from second to third place; Plaquemines Parish took over second place, jumping five spots in the rankings. In fourth place was Ascension Parish schools, which showed modest growth.
Both Central and Ascension Parish suffered significant damage during the historic floods of August 2016, with one school in Central and several in Ascension having to relocate.
Ascension also had five of the top 10 ranked schools from the Baton Rouge region this year, led by Prairieville Middle School whose score increased almost 11 points.
"We are so proud and grateful that the hard work of the entire Ascension Public Schools organization produced these results, even in the midst of so many challenging conditions our community experienced this past school year," said Superintendent David Alexander.
Falling out of the top ten to 13th place was West Feliciana Parish schools. It still retained its A letter grade.
Conspicuously absent is perennially high performing Livingston Parish, which lost 20 days of school due to the August 2016 flood, when it saw some of the worst flooding in the region. Livingston was ranked in third place last year, but thanks to the flooding, the state gave it a blanket waiver. The school district does not appear at all on this year’s list nor do its 40-plus schools.
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Meanwhile, East Baton Rouge Parish, which lost 16 days of school due to flooding, also received a special waiver. The waiver was awarded in October after preliminary results showed many of its schools likely taking a dive. Eight of its schools had to relocate due to flooding.
East Baton Rouge still appears on this year’s list but the results are from the 2015-16 school year. It remains in 54th place statewide and has a C letter grade. Also getting waivers are 62 of its 81 schools eligible for school performance scores. The other 19 schools grew academically in 2016-17 and were allowed to keep those scores. East Baton Rouge is the second largest school district in the state and the largest in the Capital region.
Sixteen other flood-affected public schools in the Capital region were eligible for and accepted waivers under the same terms as East Baton Rouge Parish. They include five flood-affected charter schools in Baton Rouge, Central Middle in Central, as well as Duplessis, Lakeside, St. Amant primary schools in Ascension Parish. Scott Middle and Westside Elementary schools in Lafayette Parish also accepted waivers.
In this same vein, all five schools in the city of Baker school district received waivers. Curiously, though, the district did not. It dropped 9.2 points. It tied for second to worst with Bogalusa city schools. Both have D letter grades.
Superintendent Herman Brister Sr. said he’s not sure why the Baker school district did not also have its scores waived.
“We’re taking a look,” Brister said. “That’s a mystery to me.”
Baton Rouge Magnet High School, the flagship school for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, lost its perch at the top of the local rankings, as LSU Lab School overtook it. LSU Lab ranked third in the state while Baton Rouge Magnet placed sixth.
The lowest performing school in the greater Baton Rouge region was Louisiana Key Academy. It was also, oddly enough, the most improved as well. This charter school, which opened in 2013 and caters to students with disabilities, saw its school performance score grow from 3.9 to 33.7. The growth, however, was not enough to allow the school to escape its F grade. The school was nearly closed last year by the state due to its low academic performance.
Next most improved in the region was Valverda Elementary in Pointe Coupee Parish, which grew 20 points, from 74.5 to 95, boosting it from a C to a B. Pointe Coupee Parish as a whole improved 12.4 points, lifting the district from a D to a C.
In the Acadiana region, Vermilion Parish led the way. Its overall score slipped half a point, but it retained an A letter grade. Also, its state ranking improved from ninth to sixth place.
St. Landry Parish remains at the bottom in the Acadiana rankings and ranked 55th statewide. It slipped 1.4 points overall compared with the year before and has a C letter grade.
Lafayette Parish, the largest school district in Acadiana, declined 2.5 points but remained a B district. It ranked 27th overall in the state.
Erath High School in Erath ranked the highest in Acadiana with a school performance score of 128.2, up 4.8 points from the year before. Southwest Elementary School in Opelousas was the lowest rated traditional schools in the region. It earned an F letter grade, as it did the year before, and its school performance score declined 2.3 points.
Most improved in Acadiana was Palmetto Elementary School in Palmetto, whose school score improved 12.2 points, lifting the school from a B to an A. By contrast, Martin Petitjean Elementary School in Acadia Parish saw the biggest decline, 27.2 points; its letter grade fell as well from a B to a D.
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Preschools and child care centers were highlighted by the state Tuesday. For the first time, the state Department of Education gave performance profiles to all publicly funded early childhood programs, including early childhood centers, Head Start and prekindergarten. The ratings were generated through observations by outside evaluators. The scores ranged from 0 to 7 points.
In addition to giving numerical grades to individual child care centers, 64 early childhood networks across the state that support the centers were graded as well.
The scores clustered between 4 and 6 points for networks.
In the Capital region, West Feliciana Parish network earned the highest score of 5.21 and a rating of “proficient.” Ascension Parish’s network earned the lowest score of 4.49 and an “approaching proficient.” Just a hundredth of a point more and Ascension would have rated “proficient.”
In the Acadiana region, the scores were even closer together, ranging from 4.78 in St. Landry Parish’s network to 5.11 in Vermilion Parish.