With nearly half of public school students living in families who live at or below the poverty line, it’s not hard to imagine why Louisiana continues to face serious challenges in schools.
But where we’re going is important, so our state ought to reflect on some real victories over the past few years, despite being 49th of the states and the District of Columbia in academic achievement in the new edition of Quality Counts, a ranking compiled by Education Week magazine.
The ranking includes issues such as poverty levels in schools as part of its effort to look comprehensively at the factors having an impact on student achievement, and poverty profoundly affects the chances that the youngest students will be ready for school.
But classroom performance is where our state’s educators can show significant gains, even if our overall rankings are low among the 50 states and D.C.
Louisiana’s fourth-graders improved, for example, at the second-highest rate on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the past two years.
State Superintendent of Education John White and local superintendents, including charter school leaders, have other good news to report. Louisiana’s high school graduation rate — 74.6 percent — is an all-time high, although still lower than the national average, 82 percent.
The state also ranks second nationally for fourth-graders on NAEP gains in reading from 2003 to 2015, and 12th in improvements by fourth-graders in math during the same period.
Those gains are important.
White noted that Louisiana improved from a score of 59.8 in 2015 to 62.8 in 2016, an increase of 3 points using the report’s index, compared with the nation’s increase of 0.8 points from 70.2 to 71.
There is, certainly, as White said, “a long way to go,” particularly as other states have resumed investing more in public education after a significant pause during the recession years of the last decade.
As White pointed out, 50th on proficiency in eighth-grade math is one of the troubling statistics in the Quality Counts rankings. With only New Mexico and Mississippi lower in NAEP results overall, the state does not have any great bragging rights.
What we do have, though, are some indications that progress can be made despite the obstacles to student performance, including the impact of poverty and limited preparation for school on the youngest students.
Education reform is a long-term process that is vital to the future progress of Louisiana. We want better report cards, even if there are encouraging signs in the data underlying the Quality Counts report.