Aguillard recounts climb in school accountability

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Aguillard

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Aguillard chronicled the rise of achievement ratings in St. Mary Parish Schools at a luncheon held Wednesday at the Forest Restaurant in Franklin by the St. Mary Chamber of Commerce.
Aguillard said in 2004 the school system was in the bottom one-third of school systems in Louisiana in achievement. St. Mary ranked 44th of 66 districts.
As of October, the parish ranked 19th out of 74 school districts, tied with Lafayette Parish, which was 20th ranked in the state in 2004.
“Every school district in Louisiana is spending every dollar they can to raise student achievement,” Aguillard said. “If we had done exactly like the other districts we’d still be 44th or 43rd in the state.”
St. Mary Parish schools rank a “B” grade for accountability, he said. “We’re one of the highest performing school districts in Louisiana,” Aguillard said.
There are three A-rated schools in the district, eight B-rated schools, six C-rated schools and six D-rated schools with no failing schools in the system. “This parish has never had any failing schools,” Aguillard said. “We had several near-failing schools… but we improved those campuses.”
In “end of course” tests, Aguillard said 84 percent of students passed algebra 1; 90 percent passed biology; in English II 91 percent and English III 93 percent passed. “We’ve had much success ramping up the passing rate,” he said.
He said every 11th grader in the state takes the ACT test, paid for by the state. “Every child that scores below 18 on the ACT earns zero points for that high school,” he said, with more points given to the school as scores increase. “The ACT is worth 25 percent of that school’s grade for accountability. There’s no such thing as passing the ACT test, the child simply has to take it, and every child in the eleventh grade takes it.”
The state awards no credit for students who do not graduate in four years.
Aguillard said 73.8 percent of students graduated on time in 2012 and nearly 76 percent unofficially at present.
“We have focused on the areas we believe will help kids be more successful,” he said. “So much so that kids on the west and east ends get the same instruction occurring at about the same time in the school year; because we stop periodically and we administer district benchmark tests so that we can measure students’ understanding and we try to remediate based on that data we collect.”
Nearly every classroom in the system has Promethean interactive learning boards and a robust computer system for students. “We even have a modest virtual learning program available for students,” Aguillard said. If “you can’t make it in a regular school environment or you want to learn independently we now offer virtual learning for students.”
There are numerous programs for remediation and reinforcement of studies, he said.
The school system keeps computers as modern as possible, with most running the Windows 7 operating system and just a small percentage still using Windows XP, Aguillard said.
He said tablets are the next thing for instruction, and the next funding challenge the school system faces.
Aguillard said the system has been “so effective in helping students we’re one of the few districts in the state reporting a dramatic decline in special education students. It’s because our programs have been effective at remediating those skills.”
He said 93 percent of teachers have been rated effective. Many teachers and school administrators have been recognized with state awards or have been finalists for awards.
Common Core is under implementation in parish schools, Aguillard said, though there is a chance Gov. Bobby Jindal will have the state opt out of the federal education program. Aguillard said the system will continue to work toward readiness for Common Core to be sure the system is ready if it does stay in effect.
“We are going to stay away from vendors that some people have labeled that are very liberal and find the best material for our students,” Aguillard said.

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