Children in grades four to 11 will likely have to take a special standardized test this fall if they want to gain admittance to magnet schools in Baton Rouge.
The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board on Thursday voted 6-1 to recommend buying a new magnet screening test. That would mean no more relying on state-mandated standardized tests, which have changed repeatedly in recent years.
The board on Thursday also forwarded without recommendation a proposal to have Lee High adopt minimum admission requirements similar to Baton Rouge Magnet High. Board members had concerns about making sure the students who live in the former Lee High attendance zone have a better shot of getting into the school if new requirements are adopted.
The board will take up both matters again when it meets Sept. 17.
The shift to school system-purchased screening tests was prompted by concerns about ongoing changes in state-mandated standardized tests. Tests from PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, were given in the spring and sparked considerable controversy, but may not be given again as state leaders debate their future. The results from spring testing won’t be released until at least October, which is also when magnet schools in Baton Rouge begin recruiting students for the 2016-17 school year.
“The state is a moving target,” said Theresa Porter, director of magnet programs. “For the past three years, the game plan has changed.”
The school system is soliciting proposals from testing companies for two years’ worth of norm-referenced standardized tests. Norm-referenced tests compare test-takers with a norm group composed of a representative sample of students across the country.
“They give you a percentile ranking for how students compare to the rest of the nation,” explained Liz Frischhertz, chief accountability officer.
If the board agrees, prospective magnet students would have to score at least in the fifth stanine on the test, meaning they would be on a par with at least 50 percent of the country.
“That goes back to what we used to use before we moved to the LEAP test,” said Porter, referring to the standardized test the state first adopted in 1999.
Mary Juneau, a mother of three children in public schools, questioned the wisdom of adding another test.
“They were taking LEAP, now PARCC … why is there a need for an additional test?” Juneau asked.
“What we’re trying to do is make sure everybody is on the same level as everybody else,” Frischhertz responded.
Both Porter and Frischhertz said testing would occur during November, and they are trying to set it up so it will not take too much instructional time and won’t cost more money to administer in terms of staff time.
Purchasing the new tests, though, will cost tens of thousands of dollars, but school officials don’t want to say how much they think it will cost because they want to see the prices the testing companies offer. Frischhertz, however, said she will look up what other school districts buying similar tests are paying.
The proposal to add minimum admission requirements at Lee High was prompted, in part, by the type of school it is developing into, namely an early college program with heavy focus on science and math.
“I think we have to have a standard because of the nature and the rigor of what we will have at that school,” Superintendent Warren Drake said.
Baton Rouge Magnet High requires incoming students to have a minimum 2.5 GPA and to be on grade level or better on standardized tests. Lee High, which became a dedicated, or schoolwide, magnet program in 2013, currently requires only a portfolio of student work demonstrating some student aptitude in the arts, engineering or digital design. Students, though, need to maintain a 2.5 GPA and have good attendance to stay in the school.
The use of tougher retention rather than admission requirements reflected the philosophy of former Superintendent Bernard Taylor, who was against barriers to entry to most magnet schools. It also reflected the fact that Baton Rouge south of Interstate 10 offers little when it comes to high schools. McKinley High near LSU is the only other public high school south of I-10.
Board member Connie Bernard, who represents the area, suggested it would help if students who live in the south Baton Rouge attendance zone that Lee High last used in 2013 were given preference in admissions.
Drake promised to investigate.
Lee High is now in the midst of a $54.7 million rebuilding set for completion in August. Its enrollment, currently 463 students, is supposed to more than double to about 1,200 students soon after its new building opens.