Louisiana’s latest push to improve student achievement will focus in part on why some of the state’s youngest students are failing to master basic skills.
“Elementary school leaders have expressed concern that students too frequently arrive in third grade not prepared for success, and that there is not academic clarity in the early grades,” according to documents prepared by the state Department of Education.
How students are faring in kindergarten, first and second grades, and how their progress can be measured, were among the topics during a meeting of a key education advisory panel called the Accountabilty Commission.
The panel advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and in this case the commission will submit a wide range of recommendations to BESE in December.
The review is part of the state’s plan to gradually raise the academic bar for public schools statewide.
Under current rules, students have to average the third of five scoring levels -- basic -- to win an A rating from the state.
The state’s long-term goal is to require students to average the fourth level -- mastery -- to earn the top rating.
Jessica Baghian, assistant state superintendents for assessment and accountability, said while the state has shown education progress in recent years gaps remain, including students mastering fundamental skills in the early years.
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Educators said there is a lack of a statewide measure of how students in kindergarten, first and second grades fare.
Having one, they said, could help ensure alignment across grade levels.
Baghian said school leaders also struggle to interpret the data available now, and officials of the state Department of Education are working to repair that.
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What constitues an A-rated schools is one of the keys, said Debbie Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals and a member of the commission.
“That is our baseline, that is our starting point,” Baghian said.
She said there are examples of what top-flight schools look like that serve K-2 students.
When students arrive in third grade with academic problems, Baghian said, “I think there is more we can be doing to help our educators.”
While Louisiana has been plagued by low academic achievement for generations, state education leaders also note that there have been gains for years, including recently.
The class of 2015 showed greater improvements on the ACT -- a test of college readiness -- than any other state that uses the exam.
While below the national average, the high school graduation rate of 77.5 percent is the highest ever.
On the other side, many students who graduate from public high schools have to take remedial courses; higher standards are widening the achievement gap and about 100 schools statewide are persistently low performing, including graduating less than two thirds of their students.