It’s report card season for Louisiana schools and school districts, and there is going to be much analysis of what systems are showing improvement and what systems may have slipped.
But what cannot be overlooked in this new set of school performance scores is that the system of school accountability is based on a gradually improving set of test scores and academic bars.
Overall statewide results this year showed that only 22 percent to 40 percent of Louisiana public school students show mastery of their subject matter, depending on grade.
The state considers mastery the level at which students are ready for post-secondary education, state Education Superintendent John White reiterated in a news conference. That standard is higher than the existing standard, and it will be gradually raised.
It is a slow process but one that challenges schools and districts to do better: While schools and districts now can earn an A in the state accountability system when the average score is the lower basic level, schools and districts will have to average out at the mastery level to do that well in 2025.
That year might seem a long time away, and the schedule for gradual improvement a slow one. But given Louisiana’s challenges in poverty and other factors holding back many students, it only makes sense to give this transition time.
White and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education set the gradual timeline for student achievement in a time of some political criticism of new academic standards in the schools but also in a time when the state is showing real progress. Scores on the ACT college tests are improving, and many other quality standards are looking up.
The process of change can be difficult. We believe that public schools are aware of the new standard coming, whether viewed positively by many system leaders or not. What is unquestionably the case is that Louisiana cannot afford to leave students behind.
If 2025 seems distant, it also is a portentous date. Given the radical changes in the workplace over the past few years, the pace of change is likely to accelerate. That is why education leaders ought to seek mastery levels for students — because the jobs available to graduates in spring 2025 will be more demanding of those young employees.
Many students will want to go into college, but others will want to enter the world of work. Most Louisiana jobs today require post-high school training or community college skills; that is likely to be the case for even more jobs in the future.
Maybe today’s focus is on what schools did better in the new report cards, but it is the long-term commitment to student achievement that should be the underlying strategy for Louisiana schools.