A season of legislative mandates and policy revisions adopted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has altered the educational landscape for public schools.
Donald Aguillard, St. Mary Parish superintendent, made that observation and others in a year-end report. The report continues below.
Required changes in curriculum, accountability testing, teacher evaluations and district funding have led to myriad adjustments in the daily operations of school districts.
As such, St. Mary educators continue to prepare students for new standards and accountability measures in an effort to continue the district’s academic progress throughout the new school year.
Louisiana’s adoption of the more rigorous Common Core State Standards has resulted in a varying degree of revision in content standards in English language arts, math and social studies.
The transition to Common Core was fully applied in grades kindergarten to second math and high school social studies this year as other subjects face a period of gradual transition with complete implementation set for the 2014-15 school term.
The adoption also resulted in major changes for middle schools as English language arts and reading courses were merged to better fulfill the curriculum transition. The modification of student schedules includes a 100-minute block of reading English language arts allowing students to receive concentrated instruction that integrates content skills in all areas of communication and literacy.
Adoption of Act I by the Louisiana Legislature radically changed evaluation procedures for teachers and school leaders. A new observation instrument referred to as COMPASS, along with ratings of student learning targets and value-added measures, has replaced the traditional format for evaluating educator effectiveness.
Additionally, Act I initiated an examination of various job descriptions and employment contracts for revision and alignment to personnel evaluation requirements.
A controversial component of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s education plan concerns a voucher program that allows students from public schools rated C, D or F to attend private schools with public money.
In St. Mary, only Central Catholic High School accepted vouchers with nine former public school students accepting scholarships to attend the school on opening day. Currently, only four of the nine students remain enrolled at Central Catholic.
Continuation of the governor’s voucher program is under scrutiny as it was ruled unconstitutional by state Judge Tim Kelley.
An adjunct component to the district’s curriculum offerings was created this year with the launch of a Virtual Learning Program.
The program is designed to expand the district’s ability to educate students who have been part of a home-schooled setting. Students participate in courses through a virtual environment with oversight from a certified teacher, providing 24-hour access to courses that would ordinarily be taken in a classroom environment.
Changes to the reporting of accountability results now include the assignment of letter grades for Louisiana’s public schools and districts. Ratings are based on school performance scores that primarily result from iLEAP, LEAP and End-of-Course testing. School ratings may also include the factoring of additional data such as graduation cohort index, student attendance and dropout rates.
In 2011, the St. Mary district performance score of 96.7 placed it in the range of a C letter grade rating. St. Mary’s academic performance increased by a significant margin as the district reached B status with an all-time high 105.2 point score this year.
Further, the National Center of Educational Achievement, a department of ACT, recognized schools that promote student achievement levels at an increased rate of progress in comparison to schools with similar student populations. Four St. Mary schools were recognized: Foster Elementary in math and English language arts, Hernandez Elementary in math, Berwick Junior High in English language arts and Morgan City Junior High in science and social studies.
Beginning this school year, high school performance scores will take into account ACT results for the first time. Students in grades 8-11 will participate in the ACT series during the spring.
In 2012, a record-setting 392 district seniors participated in the national aptitude test used to measure college-readiness. Overall, the parish experienced a decline in composite score from 19.8 in 2011 to 19.2 in 2012. With the new emphasis placed on ACT testing, all juniors and seniors without previously acquired scores will take the ACT in March.
Students in grades 8 and 9 will take the Explore test while sophomores will take the Plan test. Both the Explore and Plan tests help gauge potential ACT scoring ranges, enabling teachers to accurately pinpoint weaknesses for remediation.
In July, the school board began an investigation into the school activity fund at Berwick Elementary. Darnall, Sikes, Gardes and Frederick auditor Barbara Watts informed the board during its September meeting about abnormalities discovered in school fundraisers and an after school care program in a detailed audit report.
Former school secretary Penny T. Crappell was arrested Aug. 23 on felony theft and forgery after the audit revealed roughly $59,000 in school funds had been misappropriated.
In November, Crappell pleaded no contest and was court-ordered to pay $77,347.54 in restitution to the school system, which included $18,700 in audit fees. Crappell is no longer employed by the St. Mary Parish School Board.
To ensure continued scrutiny of individual school accounting, the board has further committed to conducting random audits of at least six schools each year.
Chief Financial Officer Alton Perry emphasized the long-standing, impeccable record of the district’s accounting system and credited the procedures in place that allowed for discovery of the school-based discrepancies.
Darnall, Sikes, Gardes and Frederick reported at the December meeting on the audit of fiscal year 2012 at the district level, citing another “unqualified opinion,” which is the highest distinction given by an accounting firm.
St. Mary Parish’s motto “Success in Motion” references the sustained rise in student achievement experienced over the past eight years. This wave of momentum has equipped the district to confront the multitude of alterations to public education with confidence and clarity of purpose.