BATON ROUGE, La. - The Louisiana Department of Education today posted for public comment an updated framework of the state's plan to set higher expectations for learning and to invest in local plans for improving where schools and students are struggling. The new framework, which complies with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), details possible changes in the state's method for rating school performance and outlines the annual process local school systems will complete in applying for federal funding.
In addition to proposed shifts entailed in the framework, the Department also announced today a request for proposals for $1 million in School Redesign Planning Grants for school systems already planning to improve their most persistently struggling schools.
The framework is the second version of a document released in September. Since June 2016, the Department has held dozens of meetings regarding ESSA, including two statewide series of public meetings, receiving comment from more than 200 organizations and more than 1,000 individuals.
The Accountability Commission will meet February 8 to review critical elements discussed within the framework. In late February, a draft state plan will be posted for additional public comment using a template provided by the U.S. Department of Education. Louisiana plans to submit the final plan to the U.S. Department of Education this spring, in order to receive final approval of the state plan prior to the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
"After holding meetings throughout the state last summer, the Department released a draft ESSA framework in September to provide examples of policies and resources that could be used to raise expectations and improve struggling schools," said State Superintendent of Education John White. "Since that release, we have been in continuous conversations with educators, parents, business leaders, advocates, and others to refine the proposals within the framework. We are on track to completing the yearlong process by the start of the 2017-2018 school year."
The revised ESSA framework addresses how the state will:
- Raise fundamental expectations for what it means to earn an "A" in Louisiana. Today a school's students must only average "basic" literacy and math skills, have a high school graduation rate of 75 percent, or attain an ACT score of 18 in order for the school to earn an "A" in the state's rating system. Under this framework, by 2025, students in A-rated schools will demonstrate full mastery of literacy and math skills, a 90 percent graduation rate, and an ACT score of 21. The Accountability Commission will consider the timeline on which this adjustment will be made in the state's school rating system at its meeting February 8.
- Measure and reward academic growth for all students. Schools in Louisiana will now be rated not just on the proficiency levels of students but also on a model that measures whether students make academic gains during a given year, no matter how high or low their absolute performance. Louisiana's "two-step" growth model, recommended by the state's Accountability Commission, will reward schools both for when students are "on track to mastery" and outperforming peers with similar learning needs.
- Reduce state, district, and school-based testing. The state will confine end-of-year state testing to no more than two percent of the minimum annual "instructional minutes" required by state law. The state will also eliminate the duplication of testing in high schools by requiring only one test of math and English Language Arts (ELA) per year in grades 9, 10 and 11, rather than two. Finally, the state will provide school systems with efficient "check-up" tests that can replace wasteful, duplicative tests administered at the local level during the bulk of the school year.
- Invest in partnerships to improve the most struggling schools. School system leaders participated in a School Redesign Summit in January to brainstorm strategies for improving persistently struggling schools by working with partners that have proven track records. Under the framework, schools that have been rated "D" or "F" for three consecutive years, as well as schools with persistent challenges with low graduation rates, absenteeism, or out-of-school disciplinary methods, will be eligible for grants of up to $500,000 annually in order to improve. In those districts ready to do so immediately, the Department is releasing today a request for proposals for $1 million School Redesign Planning Grants.
- Acknowledge the diplomas earned by students with significant cognitive disabilities. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved an alternate set of diploma requirements for students with significant cognitive disabilities, often referred to as "LAA 1." The draft framework proposes the inclusion of these diplomas in the state's cohort graduation rate, to acknowledge the achievements of all Louisiana students.
- Provide every student with enriching experiences. The framework proposes the development of an Interests and Opportunities index in the school rating system over three years to assess student access to well-rounded curriculum. The plan also outlines grants that will be targeted to low-income schools in which opportunities such as arts, music, foreign language, career education, and early college coursework are rare.
- Prepare the next generation of teachers under the mentorship of today's experts. The draft framework commits long-term state funding for a cadre of statewide mentors to oversee the development of aspiring teachers engaged in a yearlong residency. ESSA also authorizes school systems to use federal funds to support optional stipends for mentors or for residents themselves.
The updated framework is available on the Department's website, and the public is invited to submit further feedback at any of the Department's upcoming public meetings or by emailing the Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.