Our Views: The results kids deserve

When some 4,000 teachers, who are leaders in their public schools, gather this week at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, they will be convening at a pivotal point for public education in Louisiana.

More will be asked of them, even as teachers and students across the state are showing they can rise to the challenges of higher academic standards.

This is the point at which the new Common Core academic standards are to be meshed with a new state test, then, over the next couple of years, the standards for school achievement are going to be raised.

Accountability 2.0: We welcome it, because of the undeniable success of the first version.

That, begun in 1999, applied new standards for student achievement and the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program tests that measured performance. There have been battles along the way, but the initial commitment of Gov. Mike Foster and a reform-minded Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has been justified by rising scores and improving graduation rates.

This year was the last for the old LEAP, to be replaced by Common Core tests developed by a multistate collaboration.

The bad news is that LEAP scores held only steady this spring, although some systems — Jefferson and St. Charles parishes among them — showed modest improvement. But that overall result is still promising, as the last LEAP test required more of students.

The goal is to demand higher levels of critical thinking and writing — a tougher challenge for teachers. The writing assessment on this year’s LEAP, for example, required students to read one or two passages and use evidence in the texts to support the answers. In math, critical skills are being tested in earlier grades.

It’s not, of course, all about the tests. Rather, the tests that are aligned with the academic expectations of the Common Core give students and teachers — not to mention taxpayers, who fund the schools — an assessment of educational progress. One advantage, as Education Superintendent John White said, is that Louisiana will get firmer data on how well our students compare with other states using the jointly developed tests.

Accountability 2.0 will gradually raise, between 2016 and 2025, the level of student achievement for schools’ performance scores and letter grades.

It will be a new challenge, yes, but we hope teachers across the state embrace the opportunity. Critical thinking, reasoning skills, the ability to read and understand more complex materials — all are worthy goals because of the demanding nature of the job market. Not to mention the value of the humanities and the arts in helping tomorrow’s adults lead more fulfilling lives.

Accountability 2.0 is going to be phased in, for both testing and performance scores. We hope the state will stay the course on higher standards.