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Advocate file photo -- With a spring in his step, a youngster celebrates getting off of a school bus after the first day of school Thursday August 8, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La.

About half of the public school districts in the Capital region outpaced the state as a whole in the percentage of their students meeting their individual state-developed growth targets while the other half trailed the state on this new measure, according to results released Tuesday by the Louisiana Department of Education.

Of these 13 school districts, seven counted more “top growth” students in English language arts than last year and eight had more students earn that label in math. The state overall was flat.

These latest results serve as a snapshot of year-to-year academic growth of individual students. It’s the second consecutive year the state has released this measure. The idea is to provide Louisianans with an additional way of judging school performance and individual student growth in addition to the traditional focus on overall performance of students in a given grade or subject.

The latest results are derived from LEAP standardized tests given this past spring in grades three to 11 and only in the subjects of English language arts and math. In July, the state released LEAP results in the traditional way, as well as results for social studies. Science results have not yet been released.

Both traditional results and this new measure of student growth are key building blocks for school letter grades that will be released late this fall.

In a change enacted in 2018, some 25 percent of a school’s letter grade comes from student growth, specifically a Progress Index that allots points for all students. Tuesday’s results account for two of five categories of students that make up the index, but those two categories generate the most points for schools and school districts.

Forty-six percent of students statewide showed strong or top academic growth overall in both math and English this spring, unchanged from a year ago. English results showed a decline of one percentage point while math results improved one percentage point.

082819 BR Top Growth percentages

TOP GROWTH: Most school districts in the Baton Rouge metro area outpaced the state in making satisfactory academic growth on English language arts but lagged a bit on math LEAP scores.

For the second year in a row, the school district in the Capital region with the highest percentage of top growth students was Ascension Parish, with 57 percent in English and 51 percent in math. Ascension slipped one percentage point in English and was flat in math compared with a year ago.

The school district in the region with the lowest percentage of top growth students was St. Helena Parish, with 40 percent in English and 36 percent in math. St. Helena, however, showed the most improvement in English, jumping 7 percentage points, while in math it declined a percentage point.

The traditional LEAP results issued last month tell a somewhat different story of how schools are doing. More students statewide scored mastery or above in both English and math compared with 2018. The same was true in 10 of the 13 districts in the Capital region.

On the growth measure, only 17 percentage points separate the highest and lowest performing districts in the region. On the traditional measure, the gap widens to 51 percentage points.

East Baton Rouge and Livingston school districts, along with Central and Zachary, showed across-the-board improvement on both the growth and traditional measures.

East Baton Rouge Parish, the second-largest school district in the state, improved 3 percentage points in top growth for English and math.

Andrea O’Konski, chief of accountability, assessment and evaluation for the school system, said a more complete picture of student growth will emerge when school report cards are released later this fall. That will include students who grew at least some amount academically in 2018-19, but were not judged top growth.

“Still, we are happy that we have more students at the highest levels of growth,” O’Konski said.

To earn the new top growth label, a student needs to meet or exceed individual growth targets issued annually by the state or to outperform other students whom the state considers their peers in the classroom. The state adds up all of these students and then divides them by the total number of test-takers to derive school and district-level top growth percentages.

A few schools have almost no top growth students. The school in the state with the highest percentage of top growth students this past year, 78 percent, is Wossman High School in Monroe.

In the capital region, Galvez Primary had 71 percent of test-takers judged top growth students, followed closely by Woodlawn Elementary and first-year charter school IDEA Innovation at 70 percent. IDEA Innovation’s performance is particularly notable since only 18 percent of its students scored mastery and above on the LEAP tests this spring, well below state and district averages.

Not every student receiving the top growth label actually grew academically.

Students who score at the highest advanced level in English or math for two years in a row are automatically considered top growth. That remains the case even if their performance was unchanged or declined from the year before. State officials say such students account for almost 7 percent of those earning the label top growth.

The state’s goal is for all students to achieve the level of mastery, a rung below advanced.

State Superintendent John White defended describing those students as top growth because they are relatively small in number. And he said earning that label serves as an incentive for schools to strive to maintain that high level of performance.

“There is a pattern of students who are advanced not staying advanced,” White said. “And that’s a problem. That’s why we insist that you stay advanced to get your growth points.”

He admitted it’s not perfect.

“It’s hard to get at all the nuances of performance into one measurement,” White said.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.