Six years ago BESE initiated a policy to give parents and citizens a better idea of how their local public schools were performing by doing something that made total sense in the world of education – they gave the schools letter grades. The letter grades replaced a star system of tracking performance which was well-intentioned, but a little confusing. But then, the letter grades began to get a little confusing themselves, but fortunately all of that is about to change.
The latest round of school letter grades just came out and the overall results are a mixture of good news and some disappointments. Statewide the average grade rose from a C to a B, but that doesn’t quite tell the whole story. For a variety of reasons, some more political than others, the letter grades have been awarded on a “curve” over the last four years. That has had the net effect of keeping the overall distribution of the grades pretty much the same from year to year and in some cases masking what’s really going on in some of our schools.
But starting next year, the curve is supposed to go away, and that’s a good thing for citizens and parents. The results might not be initially pretty and as we raise expectations for students, you can expect to see some grades dip. But what we’ll get out of it is a truer picture of how our schools and students are really performing and the confidence that when we say a school is an “A” school, it really is and it’s comparable to “A” schools in other parts of the country.
The good news on top of that is that history in Louisiana shows that when we do raise expectations for students, despite a temporary drop in scores, our students and teachers bounce back and the scores go back up. If we want our students to be better prepared for a productive future, this is how you do it.
What’s perhaps more interesting about this year’s school letter grades is the way they are being reported to parents and the public. Louisiana School Finder is a new tool just unveiled by the Louisiana Department of Education which puts a lot of useful school information in the hands of anyone who wants to see it. It’s essentially a new version of the old school report card with added features which tell you about the school and its offerings and how well students are doing based on a variety of indicators.
Unique to Louisiana Early Education Information
The Louisiana School Finder has at least one thing that is really unique compared to any other state in the country – a window for looking into the performance and features of child care and early education centers that receive any type of public funds. We have had a star rating system for child care centers for a number of years, but this tool takes it further by giving the public information on the quality of the curriculum, teacher qualifications, classroom organization, instruction, and emotional and behavioral support.
You can use the tool to compare providers, find child care centers near where you live or work, see where they stand in the star rating system, and access recent inspection reports. This is an area where Louisiana is truly leading the nation and department officials are continuing to seek public input to make this element of the School Finder more useful to parents who want to have meaningful information about the quality of child care that’s available in their community.