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Here's What's Happening in Jefferson Parish, LA

Ohanian Comment: Here's what happens when cliches pour forth, without pass through some crap detector:

"Every child is treated the same," she said. "We like to treat them as individuals and want them all to improve."

Schools moving to close gaps
By Rob Nelson

Jefferson Parish public schools are making mixed progress with students of various races, disabilities and economic backgrounds, according to recently released state data.

Although the test scores of many of the so-called subgroups of students declined between 2002 and 2003, the district managed to make significant headway in closing the achievement gap between black students and white students and between special education and mainstream students, according to the state data.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to track the progress of subgroups based on ethnicity, affluence, disabilities and proficiency with the English language.

Louisiana assesses the demographic groups largely the same way it assigns school performance scores, primarily using LEAP, Graduate Exit Exam and the Iowa test scores as well as attendance and dropout rates.

Performance scores were reported only for subgroups with at least 10 students in them. This year, the state gave schools information on the progress of all their subgroups, using only minimal passing rates on standardized tests.

Of the 72 Jefferson schools with black subgroups in 2002 and 2003, 60 percent of those schools saw scores dip for this group.

More than 40 percent of schools with white subgroups experienced a similar decline, along with 50 percent of schools with students of limited proficiency in English, 58 percent of schools with low-income students receiving subsidized lunches and 46 percent of schools with special education students.

More than 40 percent of schools with a subgroup of higher-income students, who pay full price for lunch, saw a decrease in this group's scores. And nearly 60 percent of schools with a regular education subgroup saw this group slip.

Despite those setbacks, however, Jefferson managed to close the gaps between some groups of students.

Of the schools with black and white subgroups for 2002 and 2003, 52 percent had a smaller gap between the groups this year.

About 42 percent of schools with special and regular education students reduced the gap, while nearly 50 percent of schools with disparities between its poorer and more affluent students managed to even out the imbalance between scores. At nine schools, the low-income students outperformed their wealthier peers.

Leigh Barton, an assistant superintendent who oversees testing, said this is only the second year the state has provided such information, making it too early to detect any serious trends.

Any slide in scores is disappointing, Barton said, adding that she is pleased to see some gaps between groups closing.

Though she expressed concern the data could lead to separation and education of students by subgroup, the system has no choice but to respond to whatever patterns emerge, she said.

"We're going to have to come up with new strategies to deal with children who are more challenging," Barton said.

Meanwhile, principals say their approaches to education must stay as uniform as possible, despite increasingly stratified data.

"If we can meet the needs of the at-risk kids in all groups, they'll all succeed," said Sharon Little, principal of Walter Schneckenburger in Kenner, which posted the biggest gap this year between its black and white students, at nearly 44 points.
"Every child is treated the same," she said. "We like to treat them as individuals and want them all to improve."

Little and other principals point to an influx of students from surrounding areas as one reason for the difference in test scores.

With students often transferring midyear -- some even on the day the LEAP test is given -- the scores do not always measure a school's teaching efforts, Little said.

Catherine Strehle Elementary School in Avondale showed the greatest progress in closing the divide between black and white students' scores, thinning the gap by about 14 points.

Principal Geraldine Settoon credits the success to a uniform approach to education.

Schools moving to close gaps


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