La. Dept of Education takes aim at college and career readiness for students

La. Dept of Education takes aim at college and career readiness for students

POSTED: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 5:00pm

UPDATED: Monday, February 27, 2012 - 5:04pm

Today the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) posted a proposal to the federal government that would tie school accountability to college and career readiness standards and relieve principals and superintendents of bureaucratic restrictions.

An initial draft of the state's request for flexibility from federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations was posted February 7. However, the proposal released today is a revised version.

Officials say the new proposal not only answers concerns and ideas expressed by citizens, community organizations, and education groups over the course of the last three weeks, but the proposal positions Louisiana to achieve its vision to ensure all students are on track to attain a college degree or succeed in a professional career.

"This waiver supports our aim to ready our students for 21st Century college and workforce demands by aligning the state's accountability system with the new Common Core State Standards, focusing teachers on the new standards even before full implementation, and allowing principals, not bureaucrats, to determine how money is spent," State Superintendent of Education John White said.

White said Louisiana's proposal centers on four critical objectives:

While the application calls for retaining Louisiana's letter-grade system, the proposal would simplify the scores themselves, to more clearly depict performance outcomes. For example, in the existing system, a score of 120 is an A, while 75 is an F. Under the proposal, a 100 would be an A, 50 an F. Likewise, the state is proposing doing away with the plus (+) and minus (-), and instead will only label schools, "top gains" or "declining."

The application will focus teachers on rigorous student work, aligned with the new Common Core standards. Under Louisiana's waiver proposal, all 9th-11th grade students would take tests in the ACT series, which offer the most reliable measure of whether students are ready for education and careers after high school. Schools will be measured based on student performance on the ACT.

The system would also award points when students enroll in industry-based preparation or college-level classes. But more points would be awarded when students demonstrate mastery of tough courses by passing Advanced Placement tests - a clear indication they're ready for academic work after high school. Additionally, schools will no longer earn points when students score "Approaching Basic" on the state's standardized tests.

Recognizing not all students arrive at school with the same level of preparation, the proposal would reward schools for exceeding expectations with students who are not grade-level proficient. More than 230,000 students in Louisiana are currently below grade-level. To honor schools for "beating the odds," the proposal would give a bonus to schools that make progress with these struggling students.

The proposal seeks flexibility for after-school funds, professional development funds, and academic funds. Rather than require local superintendents to spend their federal dollars on Washington-mandated programs, the state's application asks federal officials to allow principals and local superintendents to be given flexibility to spend their dollars to preserve the programs they know are most important to student achievement.

While the preliminary draft of the application included only iLEAP and LEAP test scores for K-8 schools, and ACT scores and Cohort Graduation Rates for 9th-12th grade schools, feedback from groups and individuals resulted in indicators being reinstated into school performance scores. In particular: dropout rates will now account for five percent of middle school scores; and End-of-Course tests will comprise 25 percent of the school performance scores for high schools.

In addition to the agency's outreach efforts with dozens of groups, more than 700 individuals responded to an online survey posted on the LDOE website. And the state's application includes letters of support from key groups, like the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL), higher education institutions, business groups, and legislators.

"We're grateful for the high-level of collaboration," Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Penny Dastugue said. "The result is a strong application that will empower our educators to do away with rules that impede their progress, without compromising the groundbreaking accountability policies that have benefitted thousands of Louisiana students over the last ten years."

The deadline for states to submit waiver applications to the U.S. Department of Education is February 28.


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