Louisiana Educational Assessment Program

One of the aims of Louisiana’s high-stakes testing program was to curb social promotion in public schools. Instead of basing promotion in fourth- and eighth-grade on letter grades assigned by teachers, students had to demonstrate that they could read or do math at a fundamental level.

The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program has forced school systems to face the fact that some students were being promoted without learning much of anything. The testing didn’t stop every teacher from promoting students who shouldn’t have moved to the next grade, but it provided a checkpoint at crucial moments in a child’s school career.

Now state education leaders want to focus not only on how many students pass the LEAP but on how much they improve academically during the school year. The data will be used to evaluate teachers and to judge principals’ hiring decisions and the effectiveness of teacher training programs.

The plan is detailed in the state’s 200-page application for $315 million in funding from the federal Race to the Top program. While the first round of grants isn’t expected to be announced until April, Louisiana is widely thought to be a front-runner for funding. That is a tribute to the aggressiveness that the state has shown toward improving education since former Gov. Mike Foster’s first term in office.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who will decide how the “Race to the Top” money is distributed, has taken note of the state’s reform efforts. Louisiana is “uniquely positioned” to vie for a share of the federal money, he said in December. Louisiana’s proposal fits his criteria perfectly: States must set strong academic standards, use data to improve schools and develop strategies for turning around troubled schools, he said.

In the past 14 years Louisiana has raised standards, developed a sophisticated system for rating school performance and provided tutoring and other extra resources for students who are failing. But while those measurements have been driven by scores and other data, teacher evaluations have remained more subjective. Teachers haven’t been held directly accountable for student progress, either.

The plan the state submitted for the Race to the Top money relies on “value-added” analysis, which measures the growth of individual students no matter where they started out academically. That takes into account the fact that one teacher might have students who are behind but make marked progress and another might have a class that’s already on grade-level but makes no progress during the year.

The data could identify teachers who need more training – or those who simply aren’t cut out for the classroom. And that could make a world of difference for students.

– The Times-Picayune, New Orleans