Growth is slow at best, stagnant at worst in Lafayette's at-risk schools

by Heather Miller

Meanwhile, the Lafayette Parish School Board wants a new superintendent in place by Dec. 31, the halfway mark of a school year in which performance scores face the highest standards ever implemented statewide.

Preliminary school performance scores released by the state this week show slow-to-static improvement rates for poor-scoring schools in Lafayette Parish. Without drastic growth, three north Lafayette schools will reach academically unacceptable - read failing - status by next year.

Northside High, JW Faulk Elementary and Alice Boucher Elementary schools edged above the minimum 65 points needed in 2010-2011 to avoid the label of academically unacceptable. But with performance scores of 68.2, 67.1 and 67.3, respectively, the three north Lafayette, high-poverty schools will be moved into the failing category by 2012 when the state's minimum school performance score is raised to 75.

According to the state Department of Education, an SPS of 65 equates to roughly 61 percent of students performing below grade level. For elementary schools, performance scores are determined 90 percent by test scores and 10 percent by attendance rates. For high schools, the SPS relies 70 percent on test scores and 30 percent on the graduation index.

Based on The Independent's review of SPS data from 2008-2011, meeting the new minimum standards by next year will be challenging, if not unattainable, for Lafayette's at-risk students. Since 2008, Northside's total growth has been -1 point, and J.W. Faulk has only increased its SPS by 2.5 points in three years. Northside and J.W. Faulk need seven and eight point gains, respectively, by 2012 to meet the new minimums. Alice Boucher has shown the most improvement of the three with a 10.6-point increase in its SPS since 2008. But Alice Boucher's gains were notably slower (1.8 points) from 2010 to 2011 than they had been in previous years. And the elementary school must raise its overall score by eight points in 2012 to avoid state sanctions.

Statewide, 155 schools were placed on the "Academic Watch" list for earning scores of 65-74.9.

"While schools on the Academic Watch list do not currently face sanctions, the list provides schools with notice that they will fall into [academically unacceptable school] status if they do not raise their SPS above 75," the state education department says.

Not included in the preliminary data was the SPS of N.P. Moss Middle School, which had the title of lowest performing school in the parish before the school system closed its doors in May. DOE spokesman Barry Landry says NP Moss scores will be released in the fall along with all other schools that weren't among the worst performing. Low-scoring schools are notified before the fall so they can offer school choices and supplemental programming during the upcoming school year. NP Moss scores may be as low or lower than the three watchlist schools, but DOE is grouping its scores with other schools because the school is now closed.

Carencro High, which offers a rigorous college-prep curriculum in its Academy of Information Technology, failed to make enough gains in reading for the school's black and disabled populations, two subgroups identified by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to DOE. Because the high school didn't reach its improvement goals in those subgroups for two consecutive years, it faces sanctions outlined by No Child Left Behind.

Lafayette Parish School System spokeswoman Angie Simoneaux says students at Carencro High now have the option of transferring to Comeaux High or Acadiana High.

Simoneaux says Superintendent of Schools Burnell Lemoine will wait until scores are in for all schools in the district before commenting on the "ups and downs" of overall school performance in Lafayette Parish. Be it now or later, it'll take a masterful PR strategy to put a postive spin on the state of north Lafayette schools.

Meanwhile, the Lafayette Parish School Board continues to search for a new superintendent to replace Lemoine when he retires Dec. 31, the halfway mark of a school year in which performance scores face the highest standards ever implemented statewide.

Community feedback sessions on the superintendent search begin Aug. 18 at David Thibodaux Career and Technical High School, where parish residents are encouraged to give their input on what they want to see in the new super. For more on the state of Lafayette Parish schools and the search for a new superintendent, read The Independent's May cover editorial, "Help Wanted."