What the State’s New Letter Grades Mean

There’s a lot to digest in the new School Performance Scores that were just released. The line that grabs you first is that the number of Louisiana schools earning an A for performance declined while the number of F schools went up. While that sounds discouraging, there’s a lot more to it than that.

The first thing to understand is that this year marked a major change in the way the state calculates its 2017-2018 school performance results. Among other things, Louisiana is raising the bar for what it takes to earn an A and also placing a greater emphasis on student progress. This gives parents and citizens a clearer view of how schools and districts are actually performing, but it also shows more accurately where we need to go to ensure that our students are mastering the fundamental skills they will need to succeed.

The good news is that overall, schools did show improvement over what they did last year. Scores went down in some cases because we are raising expectations and in doing so that has an effect on letter grades.

It’s also encouraging that the state is now offering more help for schools that are struggling. They will be required to submit improvement plans and when approved by the state Department of Education they will be able to receive additional funding and assistance to implement the plans and help the students who need it most.

Last year the state also began a groundbreaking initiative to report performance data for the nearly 60,000 early education centers in Louisiana that receive public funding. The latest results for those were also released and they show that the number of sites providing quality care and instruction rose by 7-percent and that improvement occurred at all age levels from toddlers to children in pre-k.

These aren’t based on testing, but on observations of teacher-child interaction and instruction and the use of best practices at each site. The results indicate that teacher preparation and credentialing are on the rise and more centers are using a high-quality curriculum to better prepare students for kindergarten.

You can see how individual schools and child care centers score by using the state’s innovative Louisiana School and Center Finder. Here you can find profiles on the schools and a wealth of useful information about how they are performing.

The bottom line of all of this is somewhat of a mixed bag, but there are few things we should all keep in mind. One is that Louisiana is being more realistic with what we expect of our students. We are now in the process of expecting them to master their subject matters and be well prepared to move on to the next grade.

We’re also being more transparent about it. We are showing more clearly and explicitly how our schools are performing, identifying where improvement is needed, and creating greater equity by ensuring that economically disadvantaged students or students with special needs are not being left behind. Those are all positive changes.

Finally, it should be noted that we have raised the bar before and when we did our schools and students continued to show improvement. Louisiana is not starting at the top, and clearly we have a long way to go. But we have good plans in place and we are showing progress in many areas.

If we continue to be honest with ourselves and maintain our focus on the children our scores will improve and Louisiana will move up in the national rankings. The changes we have implemented this year are a significant step in the right direction.

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