Knowing that stress from the upheaval of widespread changes can cause an initial dip in achievement before improvements start to show, Superintendent James Meza said he braced himself for the test results from his first year of reforming Jefferson Parish public schools. Then on Wednesday, he rejoiced.
Instead of a stumble, Jefferson showed gains. And the gains were impressive enough that Louisiana education Superintendent John White chose a Jefferson school, Greenlawn Terrace Elementary in Kenner, as the scene for the announcement where he unveiled the 2012 scores from the state's array of standardized tests that factor into evaluations of schools, districts and for some students, decisions on whether they can advance a grade.
White's presentation highlighted Jefferson's cumulative three-point rise in the percentage of its students scoring in the top three of five categories on all the state tests, tying it with several other districts for the fourth-highest jump in the state. Since 2008, Jefferson has gained 13 percent, a rise equal to eighth best in Louisiana.
Jefferson officials broke down some of the numbers that contributed to those results. System officials calculated that the percentage of students in grades three through eight scoring "basic" or higher in mathematics rose from 66 percent to 71 percent from 2011 to 2012. The English percentage rose from 63 percent to 65 percent.
Meanwhile, in a Louisiana rite of passage more than a decade old, fourth and eighth graders must clear a promotional hurdle set by the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test. They have to score "basic," which is the middle of five levels on the LEAP, in either math or English to reach fifth and ninth grades. And they cannot dip to "unsatisfactory," the bottom rung, in either subject.
Seventy-nine percent of Jefferson's fourth-graders, 2,990 students, met the promotional standard on the LEAP, the state data show. In eighth grade, 2,126 Jefferson students cleared the bar for a rate of 73 percent.