Details of pre-K overhaul in Louisiana unveiled _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- From left foreground, Avelardo Cortez, Kelsey Howard and Marques Pierre create in the building center in Carmelyn Roney's Pre-K class at Magnolia Woods Elementary School. Roney assists other students at the computer, upper right. Louisiana is in the midst of overhauling its early childhood education system, with major changes set to take effect for the 2015-16 school year. Providers were briefed on the changes Monday morning.

Louisiana’s push to improve its pre-K classes would benefit from an expanded rating system, new rules for classroom observations and a study on how the sweeping changes are being carried out, a report released Friday morning says.

The 32-page study was done by The Louisiana Policy Institute for Children, a nonprofit group that offers policy proposals and data on early childhood education issues.

The state is in its first year of overhauling a pre-K system long criticized for uneven quality and other problems.

About 62,000 children 4 years old and under attend publicly-funded early childhood care and education programs.

The changes, which stem from a 2012 law, include early performance guidelines for children from infants to age 3, academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds and report cards that grade the sites.

Those ratings were done on a trial basis for the 2015-16 school year, and 95 percent of classrooms were rated proficient.

“After this learning year, it is time to apply the lessons learned that will strengthen Louisiana’s early childhood care and education programs,” Melanie Bronfin, executive director of the group, said in a prepared statement that accompanied the review.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to consider oversight changes for the 2016-17 school year at its June meeting.

One needed revision, the study says, is a broader rating system.

The ratings measure emotional, behavioral and instructional interaction between the children and teachers.

The current reviews allow for three levels, which the report said is too narrow to provide meaningful data.

The state Department of Education has recommended a fourth level.

More ratings revisions are needed to ensure that quality differences can be pinpointed and to assist in professional development, according to the report.

In another area, the group said changes are needed in the classroom observations portion of the site checks.

Observers deployed by the state should be within one point of third party scores at least 80 percent of the time instead of the 50 percent proposed by the department, the study says.

“The Department of Education’s findings showed a significant discrepancy from the classrooms that were locally rated versus those conducted by a third party observer,” it says.

“If provider funding is going to be dependent on this assessment system, we have to ensure the data is as accurate and reliable as possible,” Bronfin said.

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