Louisiana making strides to improve education

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2005

BATON ROUGE, La. – Louisiana’s efforts to improve teacher quality are the best in the country, according to a new report from Education Week, the nation’s foremost K-12 education publication.

Additionally, the state’s efforts to improve school and student performance rank No. 2 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, the magazine reports in its 2005 Quality Counts report.

Louisiana’s teacher quality improvement efforts received an “A” and jumped from No. 5 in 2004 to No. 1 in 2005, while its initiatives to improve school and student performance received an “A” and rank No. 2 in 2005, trailing only New York, after ranking No. 1 in 2004 (Louisiana maintained its 2004 score of 98 and New York earned a perfect 100).

In addition to praising the state for having a “well-established and comprehensive accountability system,” the magazine touted Louisiana for receiving “the only solid A” for its efforts to improve teacher quality. South Carolina and Connecticut received “A-” grades. Fourteen states received “B’s,” and 33 states and the District of Columbia received “C’s” or “D’s.”

“The state has established an impressive teacher-testing framework, starting with written tests that candidates must pass before certification and including performance-based evaluations of teachers once they are in the classroom,” the magazine proclaims in its Quality Counts’ State of the States section.

“This report confirms that we are making greats strides in the effort to improve our schools. More of our teachers are obtaining national certification, bringing the level of classroom qualification to new heights. We have some of the best teachers in the nation. We cannot afford to lose this momentum,” Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said. “I am so pleased that once again Louisiana is listed among the best when it comes to education. Our teachers and principals deserve a lot of credit and praise. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana Department of Education have helped guide this tremendous effort and I personally congratulate them. The image of our state improves every time we receive these prestigious accolades.”

“This year’s rankings reinforce our vision for education in this state and prove that we are continuing to move in the right direction,” State Superintendent of Education Cecil J. Picard said. “For the past seven years we have focused on establishing high academic standards for all students, while at the same time ensuring that every student, in every classroom, has a quality teacher. That focus is now paying off in big ways.”

Picard credits the hard work of Department of Education staff, along with the solid support of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the Legislature, for supporting the reform plan that is now receiving accolades. The reform effort includes more challenging standards for what students should learn and know; a rigorous testing program for elementary, middle and high school students; tutoring programs; a K-3 Reading and Math program and a educational technology program.

“In this state we have learned that when we work together we can achieve great things,” State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Glenny Lee Buquet said. “We have placed the students of this state as our number one priority in order to ensure that they exit school with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful. It is encouraging that we are now being recognized nationally for our efforts.”

The magazine said Louisiana has been “among the most aggressive states in holding districts and schools accountable for the quality of their teachers,” noting that the state’s accountability system rates districts, in part, on the number of fully certified and out-of-field teachers they employ. Similarly, the magazine said, the state has instituted an accountability system to judge the performance of teacher education institutions. That system is based on a variety of measures: results from teacher-certification tests; graduates’ ratings of their satisfaction with their programs, and the ratings of graduates’ mentor teachers on the quality of the program in preparing novices according to state standards for teachers.

“As a former educator, I realized that teachers play a significant role in students’ lives. Therefore, it makes sense that we are focusing much of our attention on improving teacher quality,” Picard said. “Our teachers are being supported not only in their early years of teaching through mentoring programs, but they are also finding assistance throughout their careers from professional development opportunities and leadership programs.”

“Teachers throughout this state have benefited from a comprehensive vision for teacher quality,” Buquet said. “Through partnerships with the Blue Ribbon Commission on Teacher Quality and other joint efforts with the Board of Regents, the Governor’s Office and the Legislature, we have been able to establish programs for teachers that are recruiting, training and supporting one of our most valuable resources-our educators. I am proud of our collaborative work.”

The magazine also said it gave Louisiana the second-highest score for its efforts to improve school and student achievement because the state:

… Has clear and specific standards in English, mathematics and science in “all grade spans.”

… Has clear and specific standards for social studies/history in middle and high schools.

… Is only one of 12 states that have standards-based exams at the elementary, middle and high school levels in each core subject.

… Uses a variety of test items – multiple-choice, short-answer, and extended-response questions – in English and other subjects to measure students’ performance at all grade levels.

… Publishes student-achievement data on school report cards and assigns ratings to schools based, in part, on test results.

… Provides help and administers sanctions to schools labeled low-performing.

… Rewards improving or high-performing schools.

“I am proud that our accountability system is now embedded into our daily educational activities and that we are receiving national recognition. Now, we must look for ways to continue to improve student achievement and foster sustained education reform,” Picard said.

“BESE has been united in its support of accountability and standards for the students of Louisiana and we will continue to support efforts to improve performance and support our teachers in the future.” Buquet said. “We have a lot to be proud of, but at the same time we recognize that there is still much work to be done.”

Education Week’s Quality Counts 2005 report card ranks states’ educational performance and features the grades in the magazine’s January 5th Quality Counts edition. States were evaluated in five major areas: Standards and Accountability, Improving Teacher Quality, School Climate and the Equity of Resources.

The state received a “B” in 2005, up from a “C+” in 2004, and the sixth-highest score for Equity, or how it disburses funds to local districts. Louisiana ranked 14th in Equity in 2004. The magazine did not give grades or rank to states in 2005 for Adequacy, or how much it gives to local school districts, as it has in the past.

While the state improved to a “B” for Equity, Louisiana outpaced most other states.

Louisiana has “only slight inequities related to local-district wealth,” the magazine writes, noting the state ranks 10th of the 50 states on the McLoone Index and 8th on the coefficient of variation, two measures of finance equity.

Meanwhile, Louisiana received a “D+” in 2005 for School Climate, which is based on attendance and behavior of students, school safety, parental involvement, public school choice and laws impacting charter schools, class size, school size and school facilities. That grade is up from a “D” in 2004.

“There are always going to be challenges and there are always going to be areas in which we can improve. It is our job to continue pushing to be the best,” Picard said.

Picard said he plans to meet with local superintendents to discuss ways to improve in the area of School Climate. He stressed the importance of local education leaders looking at their data and engaging their communities in order to positively impact areas such as school safety, parental involvement and student attendance. Since last year’s Quality Counts report, Picard said the Department of Education has incorporated additional informational, such as attendance and dropout data, in its school report cards, but the state did not receive credit due to Education Week’s deadline.

“I am hopeful that next year our School Climate score will improve as a result of these and other efforts,” Picard said.

For the new year, Picard said he intends to outline his educational goals for the state including a focus on high school redesign, universal access to Pre-K and a new leadership initiative for teachers and school administrators.