Iberville's school ranking deceptively low, officials say

DEIDRE CRUSE, Governmental Reporter

The state Department of Education has ranked Iberville Parish 65th  of 69 Louisiana school districts only because others did not have scores from their worst schools counted against them, local officials said Monday.

The state has taken over schools in such higher ranked parishes as Pointe Coupee and East Baton Rouge; the scores from those poorly performing schools that are now part of the Louisiana Recovery District will not be counted for two years, said Janet Marionneaux, executive director of personnel, curriculum and instruction.

Iberville Parish schools score only at one or two “stars” on a scale on which five stars is the highest ranking. Crescent Elementary and Junior High School and Dorseyville Elementary School have two-star rankings, and the rest one-star. The parish has never had a school with a failing grade, or zero stars.

“If you compared apples to apples year in and year out, [Iberville] would be higher up on those ranking tables,” Marionneaux said.

Iberville Parish's district performance score improved from 72.1 to  77.6, a 5.5 point gain. For the second year in a row, local gains were higher than the statewide average improvements.

In the rankings, the parish was at a disadvantage to Pointe of Coupee, for example, because the scores of one of its two high schools, Pointe Coupee Central, were not counted, Marionneaux said. She said Pointe Coupee Central has 300 students, even after 100 students transferred to Livonia High School after the state took over Central.  The Pointe Coupee School District's performance score improved from 71.8 to 82.3, a 10.5 point gain, and to a ranking of 52nd.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School District, with five schools in the recovery district, saw its score rise from 74.1 to 79.8, a 5.7 point gain, and a raking of 59th.

State Superintendent Paul Pasterek, who announced the scores after the POST/SOUTH deadline last week, said that schools and school districts posted their highest performance levels ever in 2009. After 10 years of the accountability program, the statewide average performance score has increased from 69.4 to 91 points – still nine points short of the target of 100 points.

Although not officially counted, the state department listed the Recovery District's performance scores as 51.4 for 2008 and 54.0 in 2009.

Iberville Parish's performance score was 73.9 for the 2000-2001 school year, the earliest figures available on the state department's website.

In recent years, local district's scores were 68.8 in 2005-06, and the parish was ranked 42nd; 68.4 in 06-07, and ranked 53rd, and improved to 72.1 in 2007-08, Dr. P. Edward Cancienne Jr.'s first year as superintendent.

Performance scores are based mainly on student test scores, while attendance and, for high schools, graduation rates also are figured in.

Iberville Parish had a graduation rate of 56.7 in 2006, compared to 64.8 percent for the state; 49.3 percent in 2007, compared to 66.3 percent for the state; 54.2 percent in 2008 compared to 65.9 percent for the state, and 56.1 percent in 2009, compared to 66.6 percent for the state.

The school system has implemented a plan involving the courts and charges against the parents of truants as part of an effort to improve attendance and keep students in school.

As for the academics, the school system began implementing a comprehensive curriculum plan last year, and has a new program that allows school staff to monitor students' progress quarterly, Marionneaux said.

“We are able to pinpoint students' weakness and strengths,” the director said, and intensify instruction for classes and students as needed.

Supervisors Geralyn Callegan and Oveal Watkins started this week meeting with principals and assistant principals at each school to discuss student performance levels in reading, math and language arts.

“This data is [sic] only as valuable as the extent to which it is disaggregated and utilized to guide instruction toward increasing student achievement,” the supervisors wrote in a memo.

Dr. Cancienne expressed disappointment in the school system's ranking this year.

“We're not happy about that,” he said. “We're pleased that we're embarking on a system of improvement.”

“We're growing at a slow, steady pace, which is very positive,” Marionneaux said. “...We're moving in the right direction, and the best is yet to come.”