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Poor performance on tests could zap charter renewal process, board fears

At its monthly meeting, Aug. 25, the board of Crocker Arts and Technology School addressed the possibility  that low test scores may scuttle renewal of its charter.

Crocker will receive a final site visit from the Recovery School District on Sept. 11, at which point a recommendation will be made on whether the school’s charter should be renewed by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Mianca Winchester, a “master teacher” at Crocker,  presented an in-depth breakdown of third-through-fifth-grade test scores from 2009-2012. She and principal Charmaine Robertson assured the board that the staff is  working intensively to improve student performance.

“We know we are not at the target they have set for us,” Robertson said.

For one part of the test, on the use of “resources,” students were given five pages of material to refer back to in answering questions. They did poorly.

The ability to “locate, select, and synthesize information” is lost with children so reliant on the internet, and the instant search results it provides, Winchester said. But students did far better in the category of “data analysis, probability, and discreet math.”

Many board members expressed frustration that Crocker’s substantial number of students in need of special educational services may be dragging down the school’s overall performance score. “We retain our special-ed students at a very high rate, which is great. Parents feel their kids are making progress here no matter what these test scores say. These achievements get muted,” board member John Tobler said.

Robertson agreed: “On the RSD’s last site visit, they said they haven’t seen another school that keeps all their special-ed kids the way we do. Whatever we need to do, we do to help these kids. We’ve done that from the beginning.”

Tobler continued, “With the number of special-ed students we take in, it’s possible we will never attain a passing score. The RSD is finding that some schools are weeding out these students. We take them all, we are doing what other people ought to be doing, and it’s held against us.”

Asked by the board what she would ask for if money were no object, Robertson improvised a wish list: “a bus to get more kids to tutoring, more bodies in the classrooms – two teachers to each room, and access to a program like Read 180.”

With the looming possibility that the school may have to close its doors or be taken over by a new administrative team, board secretary Shaun Rafferty encouraged Robertson and the board to do what it takes to get the school what it needs.

“We have $250,000 in the bank, let’s go out in a blaze of glory and get these kids what they need,” Rafferty said. “We don’t want to leave with a penny in the bank. Let’s hire more teachers—let’s do it. I’d encourage you to think in these terms. If we need a bus, let’s get a damn bus.”

Board chairwoman Grisela Jackson encouraged everyone to stay positive. “It can be discouraging for all the work of five years to just fall along the wayside. But no, we need to keep pushing and encourage each other. This is not what was here before Katrina, this is a vastly improved situation from what our kids got. This is a school worth saving. You’re not going to get a more committed group of people,” Jackson said.

Jackson concluded the meeting by remembering the “pivotal work” of Thomas Arceneaux, a recently deceased employee of the RSD. He was instrumental in helping Crocker and “gave his all in terms of commitment and rebuilding after Katrina,” Jackson said.

To discuss charter renewal, Adam Hawf, the RSD’s deputy superintendent of portfolios, will attend the board’s next meeting, Sept. 29 at 11 a.m. at the school’s new campus, 2301 Marengo St.

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