Baton Rouge-area school districts landed five spots in the top 10 on the initial round of Common Core tests, the state Department of Education announced Thursday.

The Zachary Community School District finished first in the state, with 59 percent of its students scoring at or above the fourth of five achievement levels, which is called mastery and is the state’s new target.

“That is the highest we have been since the start of the district,” said Zachary Superintendent Scott Devillier of the 13-year-old school system. “We are excited about that.”

The Ascension Parish school district tied for third; West Feliciana Parish school district tied for sixth; Central school district, eighth; and the Livingston Parish school system was ninth.

State Superintendent of Education John White, in a 45-minute conference call with reporters, said the results are generally consistent with how districts performed previously on key tests.

White also downplayed the fact that, even among most of the top-performing school districts, less than half the students achieved the state’s long-range target.

“It is consistent with where we have been in the past,” he said. “But the record shows when you hold high expectations, kids improve and meet those expectations in much greater numbers.”

In the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, 28 percent of students scored at mastery or above.

In the Lafayette Parish school district, 37 percent achieved mastery.

The statewide average is 33 percent.

Mastery means students are prepared for education after high school, White said, and it also a step up from the previous standard.

Common Core represents revamped benchmarks in reading, writing and math.

About 320,000 students in grades three through eight took the exams earlier this year.

The results released on Thursday amplified on those issued last week, which showed how students statewide fared on the exams by achievement level, not by schools or districts.

Just 22 percent to 40 percent of students achieved mastery, which gradually will become the new state standard.

Students and families are scheduled to get individual results the week of Nov. 9.

Students took the tests in March and May, amid continuing controversy over Common Core.

Educators and others are reviewing the standards, and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will recommend changes early next year.

The results released on Thursday show the Orleans Parish school district finished second statewide, with 52 percent of its students earning a score of mastery or above.

However, that district has just two dozen schools because about 85 percent of schools in the area are in the state-run Recovery School District to improve achievement.

Others in the top 10 are the St. Charles, St. Tammany, Plaquemines and Vernon Parish school systems.

Ascension Parish schools Superintendent Patrice Pujol said the results showed a significant increase in high-achieving scores over last year’s exams, which were considered less rigorous.

“These results clearly show that our students are learning to higher levels and will be better prepared to succeed in an ever-changing world,” Pujol said in a prepared statement.

In other areas, 17 percent of students in the Baker school district achieved mastery or above; West Baton Rouge Parish, 30 percent; RSD New Orleans, 21 percent; and RSD Baton Rouge, 9 percent.

For years, Louisiana relied on the third of five levels — basic — to measure student progress.

White said doing so meant the state offered students and parents a false promise that they were ready for education after high school.

“Then we wonder why we spend $20 million in math remediation alone,” he said. “The answer is, we have a lot of kids at basic, and when they arrive at community college, they are not ready for even basic mathematics.”

The results released Thursday largely will shape all-important letter grades for school districts and individual schools.

Those grades will be unveiled in December.

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