Louisianans are proud of our heritage and traditions.
Unfortunately we are more recognized for cultural excellence — food, music, and sports — than for performance in the classroom. In reading and math, we rank among the bottom five states. Our college graduation rates are among the lowest in the country, and high-paying Louisiana jobs often go unfilled by our graduates.
In response, in 1999, under Gov. Mike Foster, we created the LEAP and iLEAP tests, measuring how well schools teach college and workplace skills.
As a result of this “accountability” plan, achievement has improved. On the National Assessment of Education Progress, the typical Louisiana student today is mathematically ahead of the typical student 15 years ago by nearly three-quarters of a grade level. And the state’s high school graduation rate is at an all-time high.
But still our academic achievement ranks among the bottom three states.
In 2009, Louisiana education officials asked how we could make so much improvement and still be so far behind. They found that many other states expected more of their students.
That year, Louisiana educators participated in creating the Common Core State Standards, to establish high expectations in reading, writing, and math skills that would be shared across state lines. For the first time, Louisiana could compete on a level playing field with other states.
In 2012, the Louisiana Legislature took this a step further, passing a law requiring that state tests measure students against the new standards.
In 2014, 50,000 Louisiana students tried out these new tests, called PARCC. Next month, 300,000 Louisiana students will take the same challenging tests as will 5 million students across America.
But the Louisiana accountability plan should not stop there. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has set a goal that by the year 2025 schools rated “A” will be those whose students master these nationally competitive standards. BESE should make two improvements to the plan to help students achieve that goal.
First, state rules require that every seven years there be a review of the state’s academic standards. A review of the Common Core English and math standards is scheduled to start in 2016.
That is too far away. Using ACT results, high school graduation rates and college graduation figures, BESE can analyze how well the current standards are preparing students for college. BESE should convene a commission of Louisiana teachers to review English and math standards in light of these results, and do so on an ongoing basis. BESE should keep the standards that are equipping students for college and the workplace, and it should adjust those that are not working.
Second, the law requires BESE to administer annual tests, such as ACT and PARCC, which show how well we compete with states across the country.
BESE’s contract with the company implementing the PARCC test in Louisiana expires this summer, but, rather than waiting, BESE should immediately launch a competitive bidding process, partnering with a company to provide the Louisiana test required by law.
A quality test will measure student performance against our state’s high English and math standards. It also will show results that are comparable to those in other states.
Such a test could include PARCC questions, for which students and teachers have been preparing for five years. But it shouldn’t be limited to PARCC questions, especially if there are other questions that measure high expectations and allow us to compete with other states.
What’s more, Louisiana teachers should continue to review and provide input on test questions, and Louisiana parents should be able to review full sample tests each year. BESE should reduce the number of tests required in high school, just as it should provide parents of children in the earliest grades a better guideline for measuring whether students are on track.
For 16 years, across three governors and five legislatures, the Louisiana accountability plan has improved the lives of children in our state. We are at a pivotal time, and it is important that BESE make improvements. But, for our children, and for their children, BESE must continue the Louisiana plan.
Rep. Chris Broadwater (R), District 86, lives in Hammond. Sen. Eric LaFleur (D), District 28, lives in Ville Platte. Rep. Walt Leger (D), District 91, lives in New Orleans. Sen. Mike Walsworth (R), District 33, lives in West Monroe.