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Federal Head Starts and pre-ks getting added scrutiny under new state rating system


February 9, 2018
Charles Lussier
The Advocate

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome has made expanding high-quality early childhood education in East Baton Rouge Parish a key goal for her administration, but a new rating system established by the state suggests the early childhood centers the city-parish oversees need some improvement.

The city-parish government’s Head Start program operates 10 federally funded centers that serve about 1,600 young children. Its initial ratings were a mixed bag. Five of the centers were rated “proficient,” the state’s minimum goal, while the other five were rated “approaching proficient.” The ratings for most of the centers declined compared with the year before when the state did a test run of the ratings system.

“We certainly recognize that we can improve. That’s what that information shows us,” Broome said. “I am not one who believes in making excuses. I’m one who believes in looking squarely at the data so that we are not just ‘approaching proficient’ but that we are ‘proficient’ and above.”

By contrast, in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, which serves about 2,000 4-year-olds, 38 of its 44 prekindergarten centers were “proficient,” with two schools, Woodlawn Elementary and Westdale Heights Academic Magnet, rated “excellent.” Only four schools were rated “approaching proficient” and none earned the worst label, “unsatisfactory.”

While both pre-Ks and Head Start centers rate well at providing nurturing environments for their young charges, they both come up short on what’s called “instructional support,” or the area that experts believe shows how well children are being prepared to later do well in school. Compared with the public school system, Head Starts particularly struggled in this area.