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Two lowest schools in St. John announced

By Rebecca Burk / L’Observateur / February 21, 1998

RESERVE – St. John the Baptist Parish School Board members aren’t happyabout Act 478, a law mandated by the state that requires each parish to research and reveal the two lowest performing schools in each parish.

St. John Parish’s lowest performing schools are West St. John High andFifth Ward Elementary, based on test scores and attendance from the 1996-97 school year. Assistant superintendent Chris Donaldson said that50 percent of the decision was placed on CRT (criterion-referenced test) scores, while 40 percent was placed on NRT (norm-referenced test) scores. The remaining 10 percent was split between teacher and studentattendance.

Donaldson said the state suggested some other criteria to use but administrators chose not to use them, including dropout rates and high school transition.

“All of the schools were done separately and individually,” Donaldson said.

“The reason the state suggested this formula is because they wanted it to be objective. No one wanted to do this. Superintendents across the staterequested all year that this not be done.””This has been discussed and cussed throughout the state,” Superintendent Cleveland Farlough agreed.

St. John board members continued that discussion at the board meetingThursday night, along with some concern brought to their attention by two members of the audience.

“These are two good schools,” board member Gerald Keller said. “As aboard members I do not like this mandate and do not understand the purpose of it. This is a very bad statement because these are both goodschools.”Art Smith, a man who has a daughter who attends West St. John High,questioned how many years back test scores were looked at.

Farlough told Smith that they looked back only one year. Smithwholeheartedly disagreed with that decision.

“The criteria for one year isn’t enough,” he said. “Show me some figuresfrom other years because my little mind may be slower than yours. Thisreally bugs the heck out of me.”Farlough tried to bring out the good points to naming the lowest performing schools, explaining that these schools would now get additional assistance from the state to improve.

“All of our schools need to improve,” Farlough said. “But I think this is awonderful opportunity for these schools because they are going to get all of the assistance they need.”Wendy Boldizar, president of the St. John Association of Educators, saidshe is concerned that the students may not benefit from the extra funds that the state provided.

“I’m not saying that these scores aren’t accurate – they are. Thesestudents are at a high risk of not benefitting,” she explained. “There aresome students at those schools who really do care about their education.

Let’s not give them another reason to not want to succeed.”Other board members shared their grievances on the subject. Russ Wisesaid that it isn’t necessary because the Statewide Accountability Commission will be in place in 1999.

“This is pointless,” he said. “There is no need for it. Right after this lawwas passed the state created an accountability commission.

“This has done nothing but cause a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and upset 66 superintendents.”At that, Wise asked Donaldson if the scores were close. “Yes,” Donaldsonsaid. “In some cases by tenths of a point.””And we have to embarrass our schools over a few tenths of a points,” Wise questioned, “when all of the schools need our help?” Aleitha Bardell was angry that legislators asked for these reports without knowing what really goes on.

“It’s too bad that the Legislature can say anything about rating a school when they have never sat in a classroom,” Bardell said. “They make all ofthese regulations and they don’t know.”She continued, saying that Fifth Ward’s scores would always be low compared to schools in LaPlace.

“Fifth Ward has been the lowest school for a while,” Bardell said. “And inthe next 10 years it will still be one of the lowest even though it has improved tremendously in this school’s session. They need to think of thestudents and where they are coming from.”Leroy Mitchell said that although students and faculty at West St. JohnHigh are concerned, he told them to remain positive.

“I told them that this evaluation didn’t change the performance of West St. John up or down,” he said. “If you feel good about it, continue to feelgood about it because every school needs some tweaking and improving.

We’ve got a challenge. Let’s suck it up and move on. We can’t cry aboutwhat’s happened.”The discussion ended with a 9-1 vote to accept the two lowest performing schools and send the report to state legislators. Matthew Ory votedagainst it, and Richard DeLong was absent.

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