In a year when the state as a whole slid, public schools in the Baton Rouge metro area slid with them, with only the city of Baker, and Ascension, St. Helena and West Feliciana school systems bucking the trend to show overall academic growth for the 2014-15 school year.
Eight other school districts in the metro area, including the state’s second-largest, the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, posted declines, according to school report cards released Thursday morning.
More individual schools declined than improved. Elementary schools fared notably worse, with more of them showing declines — and larger declines — than other types of schools. Seven schools in the metro area dropped more than 20 points and all but one had children enrolled in elementary grades. J.K. Haynes Charter, which has operated as an elementary school since 1997 and added a middle school last year, dropped 46 points, diving from a B down to an F grade.
The 2014-15 report cards are the first to include the results of new standardized tests given this past spring in math and English in grades three to eight. The new tests are based on the more rigorous Common Core standards that more than 40 states have adopted, including Louisiana.
The report cards arrive months later than in years past, as public schools close up shop for Christmas break.
Christina Kimble’s second-graders at Villa del Rey Elementary School in Baton Rouge were eating pizza and writing letters to Santa Claus as the state released the results. Villa del Rey was a rare bright spot in the elementary world, improving 8.3 points and moving up from a D to a C.
Principal Joy Abernathy-Dyer credited her veteran faculty, many of them have been teaching for decades, for the improvement. She said they have embraced change since she shifted more than two years ago from a literacy coordinator to the principal’s office.
For example, she ended a start-of-the-day morning assembly for all students — “it was a lot of wasted time,” she said — in favor of a 30-minute enrichment period where struggling students could catch up and children on level could advance.
“That’s when kids are fresh,” she explained. “It’s a great springboard for the day.”
Kimble, now in her 10th year at Villa del Rey and third year in second grade, said Abernathy-Dyer arrived with a vision of what she wanted to do and the teachers appreciated her providing direction.
“Most of us in education are followers,” she said.
Kimble said she appreciates the state wanting its children to be competitive with those in other parts of the country and the world.
“I don’t want to be just a Louisiana school,” she said.
Baker improved the most in the metro area, 9 points, lifting the small school district north of Baton Rouge from a D to a C letter grade. The district has two of the most-improved schools in the region: Baker High, which improved 24 points, and Bakerfield Elementary, which improved 15.9 points.
A handful of Baton Rouge-based charter schools run by the state as part of the Recovery School District dropped collectively 13.1 points, bringing their total letter grade down from a D to F; it was the biggest decline in the state. They all operate in chronically low-performing schools formerly run by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
Five RSD charter schools in Baton Rouge received letter grades Thursday, one D and four Fs. The four Fs were all schools that opened in fall 2014. Three are elementary schools run by the Los Angeles based-Celerity Schools. The lowest RSD school was Capitol High, which scored a 15; it’s run by Washington, D.C.-based Friendship Schools. The only D school, Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School, a middle school, fell by 15.9 points, though its letter grade is unchanged.
The East Baton Rouge Parish school system declined 1.5 points, but its letter grade is unchanged, a C. Its decline was steeper than the 0.4 drop for the state as a whole.
The small overall decline masks big changes at the school level with a few schools showing big improvements, but more declining substantially.
“We look at this as a baseline year and plan to use it to build on in the future,” said Michelle Clayton, deputy superintendent for East Baton Rouge Parish.
Clayton is the top lieutenant of Warren Drake, who took over as schools superintendent in June. Clayton said administrators have been reorganized, now working more closely together. They began the year conducting academic audits at every one of the system’s more than 80 schools and have ongoing improvement efforts at all of them.
“We have visited every core classroom at every school at least once,” she said.
Clayton also has big hopes for a program where standout teachers post videos and informational materials explaining classroom lessons.
Despite the overall declines, Ascension, Central, Livingston, West Feliciana and Zachary remain A-rated districts. Zachary, which showed a slight decline of 0.3 points, remains the state’s highest-rated public school district, a distinction it has held since it broke away from East Baton Rouge Parish public schools in 2003.
St. Helena, which improved 3.5 points, is the only D-rated school district in the Baton Rouge metro area, and RSD’s Baton Rouge schools are the only F-rated district in the area.