Jefferson Parish’s public schools continue to post improved overall performance scores, and students are faring better on standardized tests and graduating at a higher rate than in past years, according to a report released Friday.
The report — aimed at least in part at showing that the 2010 election that installed a new, business-backed majority on the Jefferson Parish School Board has had positive results — was celebrated at a release announcement event by parish officials, state Superintendent of Education John White and other groups.
Citing the positive trends in the report, White said the results were particularly impressive given the size of the Jefferson school district.
“The lines you see going upward are not common in large school systems in the state,” he said.
The report was put together by GCR, a New Orleans consulting firm, and was paid for by the Jefferson Business Council and the Jefferson Community Foundation. The council, in particular, has been vocal in calling for changes in Jefferson Parish’s school system and has been supportive of the board members who were elected in 2010 with the backing of many of its members.
Business leaders, economic-development groups and parish officials have all stressed the need to show improvement in Jefferson’s school system as a way to attract new businesses and retain current ones — a concern echoed again Friday.
The GCR report largely expands on state performance scores released last fall that showed significant gains for schools in Jefferson and New Orleans.
A key statistic touted by the report is the Jefferson district’s rise from 52nd to 36th in overall rankings of the state’s school districts between 2010 and 2013, while its performance score rose from 84.9 to 101.4, based on a 200-point scale. While not at the top of the charts, that represents progress for the system, officials said.
The report also found the number of both fourth- and eighth-graders scoring above average on standardized tests increased by between 7 percent and 12 percent based on the subject. Statewide, those increases were between 2 percent and 9 percent for fourth-graders and between 9 percent and 10 percent for eighth-graders.
The number of students in schools graded D or F under state rankings fell from 32,750 in 2011 to 10,489 in 2013, according to the report. At the same time, the number of students in schools with an A ranking rose from 3,189 to 3,382 and those in B schools rose from 2,654 to 12,994.
Since 2006, graduation rates have improved by 10 percentage points, reaching 70.4 percent in the 2011-12 school year, the most recent data included in the report.
Average scores on the ACT test improved from 18.5 to 19.1 between 2010 and 2012, compared to a statewide increase of 0.2 points, according to the report.
But exactly how to gauge the performance of the schools is difficult because of a variety of changes to the state’s grading system and to the school district itself over the past four years, Jefferson Federation of Teachers President Meladie Munch said.
In that time, the district has shut down a number of failing schools, which accounts for the drop in that category, and the state’s new school performance formula means the system as a whole received a B when it would have received a C under the old system, she said.
Teachers in the schools give “200 percent every day,” Munch said, but in view of those changes, she said, the question is: “Are we really now fulfilling the needs of the kids, or were we always fulfilling the needs of the kids?”
Further improvement will require giving teachers the resources needed to improve their skills, she said.
“I think we can even see better results if there are more resources and more professional development provided to teachers,” Munch said.
School Superintendent James Meza praised teachers at Friday’s event, saying he “can’t accept any praise for this without thanking the teachers.”
Meza also came out strongly in favor of Common Core, a set of multiple-state academic standards that have been under fire from some residents and lawmakers who have called for the state to develop its own criteria. Efforts to pull out of Common Core have failed during this year’s legislative session.
In defending the program, Meza said participating in it is key to ensuring Louisiana students can compete in the modern marketplace.
“If we’re going to prepare our children for a global economy today, we have to raise the bar,” Meza said.
With the candidates elected in 2010 — who make up a majority on the School Board — on the ballot again this fall, the prospects for the upcoming election hung over the praise many officials gave to the current board Friday.
Meza, who was hired by the current board and will step down in January, said much of the system’s success was due to the board’s willingness not to micromanage.
“They set clear expectations, clear accountability, and they stayed out of the way,” he said.
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