Parish third-grade readers are beating poverty’s impact
MORGAN CITY, La. -- A study of third-graders reading proficiency and economic disadvantage in Louisiana schools shows that several St. Mary Parish schools in high-poverty areas have a high percentage of proficient or advanced readers.
The 2011 study cites W.P. Foster Elementary in Franklin as having a 92 percent third grade reader proficiency rate while also having 95 percent of students on free or reduced-price lunch due to their economic status. Hattie Watts Elementary in Patterson also had a 92 percent reader proficiency rate with 75 percent of students receiving free or reduced lunch rates.
The Economic Consumers Foundation conducted the study based on school performance scores from the Louisiana Department of Education. On its website, the foundation says “Improving third grade reading proficiency rates is arguably the single most cost-effective change a school can make to improve overall achievement outcomes.”
St. Mary Parish Schools Superintendent Donald Aguillard said the state as whole has been trying to ensure that students get to the fourth grade “on time and on level,” and the St. Mary Parish school system has also worked to achieve that goal.
M.D. Shannon Elementary in Morgan City ranks close behind Hattie Watts Elementary in reading proficiency at 91 percent, but had a higher rate of students on free or reduce price lunches at 87 percent.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been addressing illiteracy in our schools,” Aguillard said. In 2006, the school system purchased and implemented a program called Fast ForWord to get students to fourth grade at the appropriate time and reading level, he said.
He referred to J.A. Hernandez, M.D. Shannon, Hattie Watts and W.P. Foster elementary schools saying, “Those (schools) have high, high poverty numbers, yet their achievement is high.”
“We pretty much have eliminated poverty (as a determining factor in school illiteracy),” he said.
Aguillard said the St. Mary Parish school district ranked ninth out of the 70 school districts in the state in 2011 for getting students to fourth grade on time and on level. He said that 64.3 percent of students in the district arrived at fourth grade on time and on level, which was above the state average of 57.3 percent.
J.A. Hernandez Elementary in Franklin ranks highest in the parish in percentage of students on free or reduced cost lunches at 98 percent, yet 78 percent of the class were proficient readers. LaGrange Elementary scored a reading proficiency rating of 75 percent, and 96 percent of students received free or reduced price lunches.
Overall, each elementary school in St. Mary Parish came in with at least 50 percent of proficient readers, while each school also had at least 50 percent of students on free or reduced cost lunches.
Other elementary schools in the parish, though in less impoverished areas, also had a large number of proficient third grade readers. Berwick Elementary had 90 percent proficient readers, and M.E. Norman Elementary in Morgan City was close behind at 89 percent. In St. Martin Parish, Stephensville Elementary had 95 percent proficient third grade readers.