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Bagwell: School standards are tougher

As the release of school performance scores grows nearer, Dr. Teresa Bagwell, St. Mary Parish School District superintendent, told members of the St. Mary Industrial Group Monday what factors and evaluations are made regarding students, teachers and schools.
“For the most part, all schools are rated based on a grading scale,” Bagwell said. “You see it in the newspapers. You will see it online. This grading scale has been in existence for quite some time.”
The way that the grade is acquired, however, has changed as the state has set new standards and measurements. The last five years have seen the most change starting when common core was put into effect.
“St. Mary has a tradition of academic success and that has been challenged at the state level as the state has changed the rigor required of schools,” Bagwell said. “It really initiated with Common Core back in 2010.
“The state, along with many other states in the nation, adopted Common Core standards and those standards were eventually modified to become Louisiana state standards.”
Educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Curriculum is chosen based on these standards to help ensure students are reaching the educational goals set for them by the state.
Bagwell displayed an English language arts standard used today for kindergarten students. This standard was originally used as the goal of a second-grade student.
“This is what we saw when they adjusted learning standards. When they went through and they audited all the prior learning standards, it was obvious. There were notations that said this was originally a seventh-grade math standard, and now it’s in fifth grade. This was originally a fifth-grade ELA standard and now it’s in second grade. …
“All ELA standards, especially as you move up the grade levels, relate back to text,” Bagwell said.
Most texts presented to English language arts students are what are called “cold reads,” meaning the students have never seen it before.
When students take assessment, such as the end of the year LEAP 2025, for English language arts, the text will not be anything they used during class. The objective of giving students something they haven’t reviewed with their teacher is to see if they learned the comprehensive skills taught by the teacher in the classroom to read the text and evaluate it, rather than the information actually in the text itself.
“Fifth-grade math asks students not to solve the problem. Remember when you took math and it was all about if you get the right answer? They didn’t care if you counted on your fingers. Now it’s not so much about finding the right answer as being able to tell me how you got the right answer and give me an alternative way of solving the problem,” Bagwell said.
“So while our standards of what our students are required to do have been ratcheted up significantly, St. Mary has been able to continue the trajectory of increased achievement despite the more rigorous student standards and the adjustments we have made,” Bagwell said.
“Aside from the more rigorous learning standards and the more difficult LEAP test, the other change that the state has made over the last five years is an achievement expectation,” Bagwell said.
“This year is the first year that mastery is the expectation. There are five levels of achievement a student can achieve on a LEAP test: unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery, and advanced. Mastery is the expectation. Mastery is considered grade level.
“And guess what. It is considered on grade level not just for our regular ed kids, but our special ed kids, too,” Bagwell said. “One percent of our special education students take an alternative assessment. The rest are taking the same test that the regular ed kids are taking.
“For high school, the ACT rigor has also changed. Prior to last year a score of 18 would have gotten the school 100 in the school’s performance score,” Bagwell said. “Now it is set at a 21.
“The state also issues a growth target for every student, so even though a student may not score that Mastery, the school gets credit if they just move the kid towards mastery,” Bagwell said, “so that as we move into 2025, which is the D-Day for all students being mastery (by the time they reach eighth grade).”
How is St. Mary Parish working to meet all of these challenges?
“The first piece is to ensure our students have a Tier I curriculum,” Bagwell explained. “Tier I curriculum is something that is designed by the state that essentially says that these are the curriculums that you have available to you that most directly align to those learning standards. That is a significant investment, and it is not the textbook that we used to have when we were in school. It is basically an annual subscription because most of it is consumable and most of it is technology driven.”
The next thing to meet the challenge is teacher professional development.
“If you are going to invest in Tier I curriculum, you have to train the teachers how to use the curriculum and best implement it,” Bagwell said.
“For high schools, our commitment is ensuring students have access to dual enrollment. It is not uncommon for students to have nine, 12 or 15 college credit hours when they leave us,” Bagwell said.
High schools are also being equipped with the materials needed to gain credentials, such as welding, to go directly into the work force.
When the state releases school performance scores, St. Mary Parish will be able to see if the parish is continuing its trend of “outperforming all other districts quite significantly” as they have over the last five years, Bagwell said.
“We have been ranked in the top third of all school systems the last 10 years and in the top 25% over the last five years.”
“When you look at the division in how school performance scores are calculated, for the most part, they focus on the LEAP 2025, the assessment that all students take at the end of the school year in grades three through 10, and then U.S. history and biology in high school,” Bagwell said “Those calculations are divided up quite differently, though, depending on whether you are an elementary school, a middle school, or a high school.”
There is no official release date for school performance scores.
“[The state] just let us know it would be in the fall. We don’t know if that is early fall or late fall,” said Joe Stadalis, assistant superintendent.

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