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A report by the Rand Corp. says Louisiana has slipped in how textbooks and other classroom materials are linked to academic standards. 

School buses travel down Hwy 190 in Covington, La., Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021. (Photo by Sophia Germer, NOLA.com, The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

While Louisiana has won national praise for its use of top-flight textbooks and other materials in public school classrooms that pattern has dropped in the past two years, according to a report by the Rand Corporation.

The decline applies to both math and English and makes the state an outlier among those that have made a major push to link curriculum to academic standards, the study says.

Experts say linking textbooks and other materials to the benchmarks – called standards based curriculum – is critical to ensuring students are prepared for key tests, ready for the next grade and are all learning the same thing.

The practice is mandated by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and state law even though the consequences for failing to do so are unclear.

The review measured the percentage of teachers who used at least one fully aligned curriculum material in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

A total of 83% of teachers did so in math in 2019 compared to 70% in 2020 and 64% in 2021.

In English/language arts 60% of teachers here in 2019 used at least one curriculum fully aligned to the benchmarks compared to 63% the next year and 54% in 2021. Even with the drops the rate is better than the U.S. average.

Only 33% of teachers nationally used fully-aligned materials in 2021 in the classroom for either math or English, according to the study.

However, Louisiana was the lone state to show a decline among a network of those that have made the issue a top priority, including Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee.

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The push, including financial incentives, began under former state Superintendent of Education John White. The view was quality teachers and materials linked to the standards were one of the keys to improved academic achievement.

Jenna Chiasson, assistant superintendent in the state office of teaching and learning, said Wednesday she does not believe issues cited in the report contributed to the wholesale drop in math, English and other scores earlier this year.

The tests, called LEAP 2025, plunged in virtually every school district in the state.

Chiasson said the drop in scores stems from the loss of instruction time sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, not any decline in the use of quality teaching materials.

"I really think that (pandemic) is much of what can be attributed here," she said of test scores.

Classroom instruction ended abruptly in March, 2020 during the early stages of the pandemic.

The 2020-21 school year was marked by a combination of in-person and distance learning, and stop-and-start schedules in lots of school systems.

Chaisson said teachers sometimes resorted to non-traditional materials out of necessity during the sudden lurch to virtual learning.

In the past vendors visited school districts offering textbooks and other classroom instructional materials.

Some local educators chafe at having to follow state dictates on which textbooks to use, and the state formerly linked grants and other aid to whether districts were using quality textbooks.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.