Test score improvement plan proposed

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 9, 1999

By CHRISTINE HARVEY / L’Observateur / June 9, 1999

St. James Parish’s school superintendent-elect is LEAP-ing headfirst intohis new job. On Monday he proposed to the area’s educational leaders an”Action Plan for Success on State Tests.””This has to be number one – student achievement,” Cancienne said.

Cancienne brought in Jim Monasmith, a consultant who has recently helped to reform low-achieving school districts in eastern Texas, to speak at a special meeting of the school board about his plan to improve the parish’s test scores.

Monasmith also spoke to a group of principals and teachers beforehand and received praise for his ideas.

“We’re very excited about the program. I think he’ll work well,” said LonaBecnel.

Sixth Ward Elementary Principal Judy Isadore said she thinks his plan to reform the schools is “wonderful.””It’s aligned with what we’re already doing. He put it in a nutshell,” shesaid.

Monasmith, who earns a fee of $995 per day plus expenses as a school consultant, said schools have to change the way they teach in order to see student improvement on standardized tests.”It’s not the kids. It’s us. You get what you expect,” Monasmith said.He said he would bring in a group of practitioners, including people skilled in curriculum and instruction, two practicing school principals and one superintendent, to work on upgrading teachers’ skills and improving the way principals run their schools.

He said schools should begin by throwing out about 60 percent of what they teach.”Right now we’re killing them with trivia. Just killing them,” he said.Teachers should teach less and more in-depth, and they should give competency tests monthly to measure each student’s performance up to that point in every grade, according to Monasmith.But principals need to become more organized and focused before change can start, and they should spend more time devoted to academic achievement, he said.

“Principals today generally don’t have any idea what’s going on,” Monasmith said.

He said principals should develop leadership teams consisting of a school’s “superstar” teachers working together to reform their schools and including special education and Chapter One teachers who are accustomed to working with target groups.

“Unless we improve the skills of principals, we won’t improve the schools,” Monasmith said.

Faculty members also need to act in a more positive manner, according to Monasmith.

“There’s absolutely no room for a griper or back-biter,” he said.

And parental-school communication is essential for the plan to work as well, Monasmith said.

He said his plan for improvement will show results within three to five years, though he only plans to be around for two years before he retires.

Schools will be ready by that time to train new people coming in as to the correct way of teaching students, according to Monasmith.

“There is no quick fix. This is hard work, and you’ve got to do the gruntwork,” he said.

School board member Willis Octave asked Monasmith what assurances are built into his plan, and Monasmith said Octave would see improvement in the schools.

“You should see progress next year, if it’s done right,” Monasmith said.

Octave also wanted to know what especially would be done to reform the parish’s low-achieving schools.

A principal might have to be moved from a high-achieving school to a low- achieving school in that event, Monasmith said.

Board member Kathleen Becnel, who voiced her frustration with the state’s LEAP tests at the group’s last meeting, said all students are capable of learning but they are not getting it, and she hopes it not too late for them.

Board President Kenneth Foret and member George Nassar asked Monasmith for the proposal in writing so they could have a chance to look it over in its entirety before making a decision.

Cancienne said a proposal will be ready by July for Monasmith’s possible start in August.

Monasmith will give the parish’s schools the improvement the board is looking for, he said.

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