Louisiana District, Once Struggling, Rises to Top Third in State

After struggling for years to raise low student performance, the St. Mary Parish School System (SMPSS) in Centerville, La. has earned its second consecutive “B” letter grade rating from the Louisiana Department of Education. Because of its consistent growth in academic achievement, the rural school district now ranks in the top third of the 74 Louisiana school districts receiving performance score ratings.

For years, the district’s high stakes test scores lagged behind the state average. Some schools had been in Academic Assistance — a designation for schools that fail to grow sufficiently — for nearly 10 years. In the 2006-07 school year, the district began using Fast ForWord® products with seven schools that were in Academic Assistance. Fast ForWord is an online reading intervention that uses the principles of neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to rewire and improve — to address the cause of language and reading difficulties.

“We began using Fast ForWord products in 2007 to promote learning and build a climate for students to realize success,” said Dr. Donald Aguillard, superintendent of St. Mary Parish Schools. "We did not know at the time that Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant would dramatically transform the educational landscape of our entire school district.”

After students using the Fast ForWord program achieved gains on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) tests, SMPSS began extending its use to all schools. The district later added in use of Reading Assistant, an online reading tool that uses speech recognition to correct and support students as they read aloud, building fluency and comprehension with the help of a supportive listener.

Scientific Learning conducted a five-year longitudinal study of St. Mary Parish from 2006 to 2011. Among the results of the study were improvements in LEAP scores in English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies with fourth graders who used the software. The district also improved its eighth grade LEAP scores, increased its fourth grade promotion rates and reduced the number of students requiring special education services.

In Louisiana, district letter grades are calculated by combining the performance ratings of all of its schools. Three of the system's 23 schools attained grade “A” status in 2013, joining 187 other schools in Louisiana at this rank. Also achieving honor roll status were eight St. Mary Parish schools that earned “B” letter grade ratings. Three additional schools qualified for the designation of “Top Gains School” in recognition of achieving their growth target and making Adequate Yearly Progress within tested subgroups. Finally, nine schools in the district attained bonus points for students within the lowest-performing subgroup who exceeded growth expectations on 2013 accountability testing.

Over the past nine years of Dr. Aguillard’s tenure as superintendent, St. Mary Parish has experienced an increase of 28.4 points in academic performance ratings.

“Our annual increases in performance can be directly linked to the district’s steadfast commitment and ongoing investments in meeting the academic needs of St. Mary’s students," said Dr. Aguillard. "The collaborative intensive focus on student achievement has yielded positive growth and continued academic improvement.”