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Nearly half the public schools in Louisiana – 44 percent – require sweeping improvements and about 45,000 students attend F-rated schools, state Superintendent of Education John White announced Wednesday.

"This can and must change," White said in a statement.

The superintendent made his comments as part of the state's annual release of public school report cards and corresponding school performance scores, which show how students fared on key tests and other measures during the 2018-19 school year.

A total of 16% of the state's roughly 1,300 schools received an "A" grade, 32% got a "B," 29% received a "C," 14% a "D" and 9% got an "F."

The latest tally shows a slight gain in the number of "A" schools.

"There is a lot to celebrate here," White said.

The overall performance score is 77.1, up from 76.1 last year out of a possible 150 points. Both scores are "B's."

About 720,000 students attend public schools statewide.

The Zachary School District is again the top-rated district in the state with a score of 95.9, the 15th consecutive year to finish first.

But White said the results also highlight the need for improvements in struggling public schools, which the state is required to identify under the 2015 federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The state won federal approval for its plan to comply with the law in 2017, including more rigorous step to pinpoint and improve troubled schools.

The 571 schools identified include 89 that have received an "F" for two or more consecutive years and 25 that received an "F" for four or more consecutive years.

Those 25 are eligible for entry into the Recovery School District, which houses schools with persistent academic problems.

The list includes 271 that require comprehensive intervention in 2019-20 and leaders of those schools will be required to submit plans for improvement to state officials.

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Another 300 schools – some with "A" or "B" rankings – were identified as struggling with one or more groups of students and have to provide outlines for urgent intervention.

Those problem areas could focus on students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged or discipline problems in the classroom.

If those plans are approved the schools will then be eligible for federal dollars to help with improvement efforts.

White told reporters, that in the past, how specific groups of students were faring would have been report but not scrutinized.

"Now we are saying a plan needs to be submitted, needs to be evidence-based and needs to be approved," he said.

White noted gains by some of the troubled schools highlighted last year. "I believe that there is evidence we are seeing here today that, by shining a light and requiring a plan and insisting on accountability, we are gong to see movement on those groups of students," he said.

The state has gotten mixed results so far on trying to upgrade struggling schools because of the federal law.

Last year, using a different definition, 219 schools were identified as needing comprehensive improvements, not counting alternative schools. Of those 36% showed gains of three points or more, 40% held steady and 24% dropped by three or more points. 

One in five of the 219 troubled schools improved a full letter grade.

Leaders of some school systems are set to appear before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in December to describe their efforts to address shortcomings.

Annual school ratings also include how early childhood centers are faring.

The number of sites rated "proficient," or better, the middle of five categories, rose by 7% and makes up nearly 40% percent of centers statewide.

However, major gaps continue in access to quality early childhood education for low-income families with children from birth to age 3.

Only 1% of infants, 6% of toddlers and 26% percent of three-year-olds can attend high-quality centers compared to 86% of four-year-olds, according to the state Department of Education.

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