Dec 14, 2010 by Terri Zezula

Closing the Achievement Gap He gets results! Rescuing the good citizens of Metropolis and instilling hope and wonder in all citizens. Yes, it’s a comical notion but we love to believe in the Superheroes and their ability to get things done!

When it comes to education, we look to our school district leaders to get things done – improved student achievement, high quality schools and low cost education programs that get maximum results. Especially in light of recent reports that show the US lagging behind other countriesin reading, math, science and social studies. But there is one district in Louisiana that is getting things done – their results are proof that good leadership, a supporting community and proven education programs can turn a district around, from failing to proficient in a short amount of time.

Once a low performing district, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has achieved significant gains to become a role model for schools looking to make dramatic changes in their performance. After using the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ family of educational software products to strengthen students’ brain processing and literacy skills, students have increased their reading proficiency, and improved their achievement on state tests. In addition, fourth grade promotion rates have increased and test scores for student subgroups have improved, with the district making significant progress toward closing the achievement gap.

During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of the Fast ForWord software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the Fast ForWord program was extended to the rest of the district. Students in grades three through five work with the Fast ForWord products 30, 40 or 50 minutes a day, depending on the school. Since 2008, the district has implemented Reading Assistant software as well.  Reading Assistant combines advanced speech-verification technology with the latest reading science to help students strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.


  • Improved state test scores
  • Increased fourth grade promotion rate
  • Fewer students required to attend summer remediation
  • Reduced achievement gap

From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the Basic level on the initial LEAP ELA test increased from 55 percent to 78 percent. In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above Basic on the initial ELA test. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.

Similarly, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.

Fourth Grade Initial LEAP Test
Subject 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 Net Change*
ELA 53% 54% 60% 55% 64% 73% 73% 78% +25%
Math 54% 54% 62% 59% 59% 71% 69% 79% +25%
Science 45% 56% 59% 53% 59% 66% 67% 69% +24%
Social Studies 56% 58% 55% 59% 66% 63% 63% 72% +16%

*Net Change is measured from the year before Fast ForWord participation to 2010, i.e. 2006-2010 for 4th graders.

Fourth Grade Promotion Rates

In addition to improving LEAP scores, St. Mary Parish collected longitudinal data about the percentage of fourth grade students each year who were promoted to fifth grade. From 2006 to 2010, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate improved from 65 to 85 percent.

Both general education and special education students showed a positive trend in fourth grade promotion rates. Between 2006 and 2010, the fourth grade promotion rate improved from 67 to 88 percent for general education students, and from 33 to 59 percent for special education students.

 “Over the past four years, our fourth grade students have made astounding gains, outpacing their state counterparts in English language arts as well as math and science,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard. “Our fourth graders now rank 14th in the state, signifying a continuance of annual proficiency increases since 2006. As a result, the number of fourth graders who require summer remediation has declined significantly, and students’ self-confidence and motivation have soared. In reading and across the curriculum, our students are clearly benefitting from our ongoing efforts to provide effective, targeted instruction and interventions through the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs.”

St. Mary Parish Public School System is an example of a district that is getting results – making significant gains in reading, math, social studies and science. Providing the standard for making our education system No. 1 in the world again!