Letter: Education changes worth effort

Louisiana is experiencing job growth that is the envy of our nation.

These are not the jobs of past generations, however. More than half of all jobs in Louisiana require education after high school. But today, fewer than 30 percent of our students go on to achieve a two-year or four-year college degree.

In the past our state accepted that a score of “basic” on the LEAP test — “level three” on a five-point scale — meant that a student is on track to succeed in his education after high school. A school rated “A” in the state’s letter grade system, therefore, is one whose average student performs at “basic” or “level three.”

As it turns out, it is typically students scoring at “level four” or “mastery” who are succeeding with education after high school. Our expectations for students today are out of step with the jobs for which they’ll compete tomorrow.

It is time to raise the bar.

Last week, the state announced that by the year 2025, A-rated schools in Louisiana will be ones whose average student performance indicates readiness for two-year and four-year college, “mastery” or “level four” on annual tests.

The state also announced that between 2013 and 2015 there will be more time for students and educators to learn the new expectations.

Between now and 2015, for example, the state will issue school letter grades using a curved distribution.

Likewise, for the next two years, if an otherwise proficient fourth-grade student struggles on new tests, local school districts may move the student to fifth grade if there is evidence the student will succeed. Similarly, eighth graders who struggle will receive remedial coursework in high school, rather than being left behind in the middle school.

While the state will continue with its Compass evaluation system, because tests are changing, the state will not require the use of value-added test score data in those evaluations.

To address concerns about tests administered on computers in 2015, the state will not require third- and fourth-grade-students to take them on computers. The state will also allow schools whose technology is not yet adequate a waiver in all grades for one year.

Finally, in addition to the online Classroom Support Toolbox, the state will publish a hard-copy Louisiana Curriculum Guidebook that will include a recommended sequence of skills to be taught and recommended classroom materials to use.

This is a moment of opportunity for Louisiana children and families. We should redefine A-rated schools as ones whose average students are prepared for the jobs of tomorrow. This is a once-in-a-generation shift, however, and we should not be hasty. Our teachers, students, and parents need time to learn the new expectations.

John White

Louisiana superintendent of education

Baton Rouge