Louisiana’s annual report cards for public schools unfairly penalizes small rural school districts, St. Helena Parish School District Superintendent Kelli Joseph said Monday.

The district, which is regularly among the lowest-scoring statewide, issued a 16-page report on Sunday in which Joseph and a researcher spelled out their concerns.

The report says changes in state-issued school performance scores — which determine the grades — “have systematically undervalued the commendable overall progress of students in small, rural, mostly minority school districts.

“These metrics have also created insurmountable disincentives for teachers in these districts who teach many of the neediest students,” according to the review.

The study said the annual reports are “irrelevant” to districts like St. Helena because of limits in identifying students making progress and the failure to allow comparisons with large, affluent school districts.

It also says there is widespread evidence that test results are heavily influenced by the percentage of students who are poor, minority and highly mobile.

“Nationally, schools placed on “academic watch” for unsatisfactory performance are, on average, 95.1 percent poor and 90 percent minority,” according to the review.

The St. Helena Parish school system is among the smallest in the state with about 1,100 students.

One school serves students from pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and the other for grades 7-12.

Before the system was reconfigured the middle school was taken over by the state in 2010 because of academic problems.

It is back under district control.

About 27 percent of parish residents live below the poverty line.

Roughly 10 percent have a college degree, which is half the state average.

The district has long been plagued by problems attracting teachers, in part because of its rural location.

State-issued report cards mostly reflect how students fare on key tests.

The St. Helena school system got a D last year, with 54.9 points of a possible 150.

“It is not just small rural districts like St. Helena,” Joseph said Monday. “It is also small schools in larger school districts that have the same issues.”

State Superintendent of Education John White said Sunday he had not read the report.

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