Recent School Changes in Louisiana Win Praise, But Top Classrooms Still Have Sharp Racial Split

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Louisiana is doing a better job than most states in letting parents know how public schools are performing in the wake of a federal law that sparked major changes, a national review released Wednesday says.

But the state also suffers from some of the same shortcomings as others, including white students dominating A-rated schools and black students filling those with failing marks, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.

In Louisiana, black students make up an average of 47% of public schools but typically only 22% of an A-rated public school in the state.

Black youngsters comprise 83 percent of a typical F-rated school in Louisiana, the group says.

"If we have a school system that is truly equitable, we would expect the typical student body of an A-school to be very similar to the student body of an F-school," said Anne Hyslop, the alliance's assistant director for policy, development and government relations.

"We know that historically under-served students are still lagging behind and that we have these large achievement gaps," she said. "It is just really powerful to see the numbers and see how large those gaps are."

The snapshot is one of the first of its kind to rate schools in the first year of changes triggered by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Louisiana won federal approval of its plan for complying with the law in 2017 after months of controversy, including criticism of the final product by Gov. John Bel Edwards and teacher unions.

The law is largely aimed at spurring new policies to help struggling students, and one of the key changes for public schools here makes it easier to earn an A-rating.

The 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has four new members, is set to hold a forum on how the changes are working on Tuesday at 1 p.m.

BESE sets state policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.

The previous panel approved the state's plan to comply with the federal law 7-4.

Officials of the state Department of Education did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment on the review.

The alliance studied Louisiana and nine other states and the impact of the new rules in 2017-18, the first school year they took effect.

The review says that, while states often fail to send consistent signals on school quality to parents and others, Louisiana does a better job than most.

It says some states hand out top ratings to public schools even though they have lots of struggling black students and others historically under-served.

The group notes that A-rated schools in Louisiana were not also targeted for required improvements by state officials.

Schools with B-ratings can face scrutiny, and the report says 10% percent of "B" schools were identified as having at least one "consistently under-performing" group of students.

Louisiana was also cited for being the lone state that identifies schools because their out-of-school disciplinary practices are far higher than the the national average.

The study says 38% of schools identified as needing targeted support were classified that way in part because of discipline rates twice the U.S. average.

"Louisiana was the only state that said 'We think we have a problem with excessive rates and we are going to try to tackle that,'" Hyslop said.

Two reports in 2017 highlighted the issue.

A study done by the Education Alliance for New Orleans says black students in Louisiana public schools are twice as likely as white students to face suspensions.

One done by state officials says public schools are too quick to toss students with behavior problems.

The state was chided for failing to target for improvements 11% of F-rated schools and 19% of D-rated schools.

Hyslop said states can adhere to federal law without designating every D- and F-rated school for comprehensive changes.

"They just don't have the capacity to help all of those schools improve," she said. "There is a concern about over-identifying schools."

The group said its mission is to promote the transformation of high schools to ensure that graduates are prepared for post-secondary education and success in life.

The findings released Wednesday are the first of a series, with future reviews comparing state efforts.

Other states studied were Mississippi, Florida, Washington, Ohio, Indiana, Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan and New Mexico.

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