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State of Education IV

The State of Education


The regular session of the Louisiana legislature is scheduled to begin on Monday, March 14th. The legislature has the power to impact many different aspects of the educational experience for Louisiana’s students and educators. This series will examine some of those most pressing issues.

What is "Student Success" in Louisiana?

Teachers go to school for years so that they can understand how to help students learn. Student learning is the bedrock of everything they do in the classroom. The experience of seeing a student work to understand a concept and then finally ‘get it’ is one of the most rewarding experiences a teacher can have, and that is what drives educators to continue to do the work they do.

Unfortunately, over the last decade the teaching profession has changed significantly. Teachers don’t have the autonomy to individualize their lessons in the way their students might need. They don’t have the flexibility to utilize new techniques or materials that can inspire an unengaged student. Instead, they must stick to a strict curriculum designed to help students perform well on a very specific test.
 
The “education reforms” which sparked this degradation of the teaching profession were rooted in a goal to help students; to save them from failing schools. The idea was to quantify student success so that it could be measured and therefore improved. But in seeking to quantify the teaching and learning process, all the nuance, skill and talent that goes into teaching has been put aside. In the end, we have sacrificed student learning in order to increase the perception of “student success.”
 
“Student success,” as measured by test scores and graduation rates, doesn’t always indicate that a student is learning what they need to know, or that they will be successful beyond high school.
 
In Louisiana, a school or district performance score is based largely on test scores. For elementary schools, 100% of their school performance score is determined by student performance on LEAP 2025 (75% LEAP 2025 scores & 25% student progress, as determined by LEAP 2025 scores). Middle schools are evaluated similarly, but 5% of their score is based on how many credits students earn in their first year of high school. High school is a little different: 25% LEAP test scores; 25% ACT test scores; 25% graduation rate; and 25% based on how many students earn college credit or an industry certification.
 
Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) 2025 is a statewide assessment program for students in grades 3 through high school to measure student knowledge and skills in key courses: English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics, Science and Social Science. Unfortunately, there is no independent judgement about how accurately the LEAP test evaluates a student’s knowledge or understanding of a particular topic. It is an “uniquely Louisiana” assessment developed by the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) and independent, for-profit contractors.
 
Despite the fact that Louisiana’s state tests are supposed to be compatible to nationally recognized tests, the results we see on state tests do not align with national standards. As LDOE has lauded the “gains” students have made on Louisiana’s tests as an indicator of improving schools, there has been little-to-no improvement according to national testing.
 
We have developed a system where so much of a school’s success is routed in a testing system that hasn’t been proven to be effective. District and school administrators inevitably feel pressure to ensure students perform in their LEAP tests, and that pressure is felt by the students too. Educational experts agree that high stakes testing can be detrimental to student learning.
 

“Test standards and major research groups such as the National Academy of Sciences clearly state that major educational decisions should not be based solely on a test score. High-stakes testing punishes students, and often teachers, for things they cannot control. It drives students and teachers away from learning, and at times from school. It narrows, distorts, weakens and impoverishes the curriculum while fostering forms of instruction that fail to engage students or support high-quality learning.”

Another major gap in student learning comes from our credit recovery system. In an attempt to boost graduation rates, many districts offer failing students the opportunity to retake a course to earn the credit and graduate on time. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. Students who want to improve and are willing to put in the work should have opportunities to learn and succeed. Unfortunately, that isn’t really what’s happening in many of Louisiana’s credit recovery programs.
 
Many districts outsource these credit recovery courses to for-profit, online, companies that often offer subpar content and limited education. They advertise their high completion rates and flexible scheduling, but there is little accountability or substance for students in these programs. In truth, some students report finishing an entire “course” in as little as two days. According to experts, “virtually nothing is known about the student experience in these controversial classes, which have been proliferating rapidly.” Many students report that while they enjoy the flexibility these courses offer, the content is “shockingly superficial, and the online curricula incredibly easy to game through quick Google searches—or…by paying friends to do all the work.”
 
So, if a school or a district is bragging about increased graduation rates, but those increases are due to an increase in credit recovery programs that don’t really help students learn, is that indicative of a “better” school or more learning?
 
Louisiana policy makers waste a lot of time debating how best to tweak pie-in-the-sky formulas and re-analyze statistics in order to rate schools. But at the end of the day, the only thing that should really matter is how much our students are learning. Are they getting an education that will help them be successful in life? Are they learning how to be responsible citizens and effective workers?  
 
Over the last decade policy makers have tried to quantify student learning by making up metrics to measure “student success,” instead of letting teachers and schools use independent, research-driven tools to evaluate for themselves what their students are learning. Teachers are professionals who have dedicated their professional lives to the art of educating students. It’s time that non-teachers in Baton Rouge start to respect the professionalism and expertise of Louisiana’s teachers.
 
Since Bobby Jindal’s "education reforms,” Louisiana’s academic performance has plummeted. In 2010 Louisiana schools ranked 32rd out of 50 states. As of 2022, Louisiana has fallen to 48thand teachers are leaving in droves. 55% say that they now plan to leave the profession earlier than anticipated.
 
Our schools are in crisis, and it should be the top priority for every Louisiana legislator this session. Write to your Louisiana Representative and Senator and help them understand what learning really looks like in our schools and how they can improve the experience of every Louisiana student and teacher. It is time to move past the political status quo and truly prioritize student learning.

Click here to send an email to your legislators!