Once again, Louisiana is first where it ought to be last and last where it ought to be first.
Or almost last.
The latest hit took place earlier this month, when this year’s national scores for college readiness were released.
The test, which is called the ACT, is sort of a snapshot of public and private school achievement.
All high school seniors take the same exam, which makes it easy to see how students in Louisiana compare with their peers in every other state.
Scores range from 1 to 36.
The national average is 20.9.
The average for Louisiana is 19.5, ahead of only Mississippi and North Carolina, which is not much worse than the state has done in the past.
Yet the bigger story was the fact that this year’s tally was a drop from 20.3 last year, which is huge by ACT standards.
Louisiana’s average had only varied by three- tenths of a point one time in the past decade.
ACT results usually rise or fall by a tenth of a point or two.
Any swings of nearly a full point or more usually stem from something big, which is what happened here.
State educators knew a dip was coming. 2013 was the first time that the state required all high school seniors to take the test, not just those planning to attend college.
Expand the pool of test-takers, the logic went, and the state’s average was sure to fall, especially since most of the new test-takers figured they would not be going to college.
But state Superintendent of Education John White said other gains make the ACT dip worth enduring.
White noted that, by requiring all seniors to take the test, about 3,600 more students than last year scored at least an 18 on the exam.
That means they can get into a college of some kind in Louisiana without remedial work.
“That is worth a small change in our overall score,” he said.
White also said that, among states that required all students to take the test, the drop in Louisiana was smaller than others.
The first year decline in Michigan was 1.9 points and 1.5 points in Colorado, Illinois and Kentucky, according to figures provided by the state Department of Education.
The average composite score in North Carolina, which required all students to take the ACT this year for the first time, is 18.7.
A steep drop in the ACT scores this year is not going to keep people from moving to Carolina.
Yet Louisiana’s image enjoys no such cushion.
Gains have been made in the classroom since 2000, especially through high-stakes tests, nationally acclaimed accountability systems and sweeping changes in the state’s long-suffering public school systems.
More than 100 charter schools have sprung up for nearly 60,000 students.
Another 8,000 students get vouchers to escape failing public schools.
Teachers face sweeping, controversial evaluations in a bid to improve student achievement through better instruction.
The whole push stems from the fact that student achievement in Louisiana has lagged behind most of the nation for generations.
Either the state tries something different, or essentially says that the only ways out for lots of students are money and private schools.
But in the meantime nosedives on the ACT become just another education statistic that has to be explained.
It took the state nearly a decade to move the needle half a point on a nationally watched test — 19.8 in 2004 to 20.3 in 2012.
How long will it take to move the state’s average up nearly a full point, and return Louisiana to its modest perch in the ACT sweepstakes?
Will Sentell covers state education issues for the Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.