Louisiana’s students are as smart and as capable as any other in the nation. Our children are endowed with gifts no lesser than those of any child on earth. And our students are living up to their potential: more students than at any point in the state’s history are graduating from high school, earning college-going ACT scores, earning AP college credits, earning TOPS, or earning industry-based credentials valued by Louisiana employers.
While these accomplishments are evidence of great progress, they also remind us of all that is possible when we set our expectations high. In its plan to implement the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act, Louisiana has set expectations for all students that are as ambitious as expectations in any state in the country. Over the course of the next two months, as the state Department of Education and local school systems implement this new plan, these high expectations will be evident and on full display for communities. It is important that all involved—parents and educators, in particular—be aware of critical changes and of what they mean for the children and schools of our state.
First, as in previous years, school report cards published in the online Louisiana School Finder (www.louisianaschools.org) will include a performance score for each school and corresponding letter grade based on measures of student achievement such as graduation rates, reading skills and career readiness certificates. Parents and educators should know that this year, this rating system will be more stringent. As expectations rise, schools and school systems that have grown accustomed to ‘A’ ratings each year may find it more challenging to maintain those high marks. Over time schools will rise to the higher bar, but, as with any significant change, it will take time.
Next, for the first time, schools will now be evaluated not just on the skill levels their students demonstrate but also on how much progress their students make over the course of a school year. In other words, educators and parents will be able to see not only where students stand but also how far they’ve come. This step will provide parents and community members a new view of school quality, one focused not on which schools have the top students but on which schools help all students—high-performing and struggling students alike—learn the most during the school year.
Third, the Louisiana School Finder will now include information on the achievement and progress of groups of students within schools. The system will report, for example, the academic performance of specific racial, income, home language and disability groupings of students. Schools that persistently struggle to support specific student groups, even if the school is high-performing overall, will be labeled as “Urgent Intervention Required” and will be required to generate a plan tailored to the needs of these students.
Finally, the new plan cuts through federal red tape and bureaucracy, consolidating a dozen different federal grant processes into one simple plan. Rather than filling out reams of disconnected applications for federal money to support improvement plans, Louisiana school systems will now fill out one application, so that local leaders rather than distant bureaucrats can formulate plans and make sure the plans are funded.
Louisiana’s students have made great strides in recent years. But we have a long way to go until we can say that every student is on a path toward a prosperous adulthood. The bedrock for change is high expectations. Louisiana’s new plan accomplishes this and more, providing parents with better information on school quality than ever before, and empowering educators with the knowledge and support needed to make changes necessary for all children to succeed.
John White is the State Superintendent of Education in Louisiana.