With last week’s release of state test results, we are reminded of the enormous challenges and opportunities for schools in Baton Rouge. Despite five of the top 10 performing districts in the state being in the Baton Rouge area, only a third of students in Baton Rouge are currently attending a top-rated public school (“A” or “B” rated) and in the neighborhoods of North Baton Rouge, that percentage is less than one in ten. In the coming weeks, we will see how students in Louisiana performed compared to students in states and districts across the country.
The shift to more rigorous assessments led many across the state to anticipate lower performance. As you may recall, in the past schools were given credit for the number of students achieving a score of “basic” or higher on a rating system with five categories: “unacceptable,” “approaching basic,” “basic,” “mastery,” and “advanced.” Now, not only has the state instituted more rigorous standards and assessments to match, they have also raised the bar of giving credit to schools from “basic” to “mastery” (or a level 4 performance). This is without a doubt a good thing for our kids and schools, but we cannot expect our schools to get all of their students to “mastery” level overnight. For example, to become an “A” school in the future, a school will have to have three-quarters of its students scoring at the “mastery” level.
This is certainly our expectation for our schools, but what we must focus on as a community is how these schools starting in the bottom 5% and 10% are growing and progressing from this new, higher baseline going forward. A great school will demonstrate that more and more of its kids are reaching the “mastery” level each year, which is something these test results show is needed across all our schools in the state (as a point of comparison, the best district in the state – Zachary – has 60% of its students performing at the “mastery” level).
The results from this assessment cycle are apples and oranges to previous years. Comparing schools to previous years is really not helpful because the standards, tests, and grading level are all different. These assessment results provide an earnest baseline, a starting line, of how our students are performing academically and where they need to grow. Since our founding, we have focused on supporting students in some of the most chronically challenged schools in our state (schools in the bottom 5% of performance). We at New Schools for Baton Rouge believe higher standards are good for our kids and that our schools and students will rise to the challenge. We continue to partner with proven school organizations to take on the hardest school challenges in our community, and we have to be honest about that. Across our schools, we are seeing strong teacher and student retention, parent engagement, and school culture, leaving us confident in our strategy to transform education in Baton Rouge.
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We are thankful for our educators, students and families, and community partners who are committed to seeing every child in Baton Rouge have access to a great school. This is possible and we look forward to celebrating the great progress our students and schools will make and working together to overcome the real challenges higher expectations will present.