Study Finds Louisiana Leads the Way in Understanding, Teaching State Standards

By Marva Hinton — January 11, 2017 5 min read
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A recent study from the RAND Corporation finds that teachers in the state of Louisiana tend to teach and think about their work in ways that are more aligned with the Common Core State Standards than other teachers. The study also found that teachers in the state were more likely to consult resources that address their state standards.

“We felt like it was a celebration of the hard work of so many of our teachers across the state who really took seriously our increase in expectations and wanted to make sure that they were delivering on that with their students,” said Rebecca Kockler, the state’s assistant superintendent of academic instruction.

The study results are based on RAND’s nationally representative American Teacher Panel surveys from June 2015 and October 2015.

These surveys were taken before June of last year when Louisiana state leaders voted to adopt new state standards, which are only slightly different than the common core.

The RAND study entitled, “Creating a Coherent System to Support Instruction Aligned with State Standards,” looked at states that had adopted common core as well as states that had adopted standards that were strikingly similar to the common core.

After finding notable differences in the way Louisiana teachers were approaching the standards, RAND decided to conduct interviews with Louisiana Department of Education officials and to examine materials that the state provides to administrators and teachers.

How Louisiana Stands Out

The study reveals three key ways that teachers in Louisiana differed from their counterparts in other states. These teachers were more likely to:

  • Regularly use or consult standards-aligned instructional resources
  • Understand state standards
  • Implement standards-aligned classroom practices

These findings correspond with a recent increase in academic achievement in the state. The report provides several examples of this. It notes, for instance, that in 2013 Louisiana became one of only 12 states that requires all 11th graders to take the ACT. The number of students taking Advanced Placement courses in the state has doubled between 2012 and 2016. The state is also seeing record growth in its high school graduation rate and its rate of college attendance. Fourth graders in the state also had the highest learning gains in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test.

So what is Louisiana doing differently? RAND identified three key strategies:

  • The state’s work to create a “coherent academic strategy focused on integration, alignment, and quality among systems supporting standards.”
  • The state’s ability to provide “transparent and regular communication about academics within the state department and across layers of the education system.”
  • The state’s policy of “strong support for local decisionmaking and ownership of change by districts and teachers.”

The report praises Louisiana for its work to make sure that curricula, professional development, and student assessments are all aligned with state standards and that all three are high quality.

“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how does everything in our academic system that touches a teacher communicate those same clear expectations about what most matters for students and does every resource, does every communication, does every tool that we provide help teachers deliver on that,” said Kockler. “That’s our job as a state to connect those pieces and to provide the tools and resources to help teachers do that.”

As an example, to help districts choose curricula, Louisiana provides annotated reviews of K-12 textbooks for math and English/language arts free online. Materials are rated on a three-point scale: Tier 1 exemplifies quality, Tier 2 is approaching quality and Tier 3 does not represent quality. The report noted that, “all Tier 1 programs receive a state contract, which makes it easier for districts to procure them.” The state also created curricula that is available for free online to fill what administrators identified as a hole in quality materials related to state standards in ELA for grades 3-12.

When it comes to professional development, the state only recommends vendors that have made an explicit link between their offerings and curricula that’s been rated Tier 1. And, the state provides a free online resource for teachers looking for assessments that align with standards. The tool allows teachers to search by “text, standard or topic.”

Communication and Teachers as Leaders

The report also lauded the state for the way it communicates with districts and with individual schools and teachers. One of the key ways the state does that is through a teacher-leader program. These more than 5,000 teachers get special professional development and convey what they’ve learned to their colleagues at school. A small subset of these teachers called teacher-leader advisors actually reviews instructional materials and helps the state decide what to provide for use in the classroom.

Karen Parrino teaches kindergarten at North Live Oak Elementary in Livingston, and she’s been teaching for 26 years. For the past five, she’s been one of the state’s teacher-leader advisors who has helped to write curriculum.

“The input has given teachers a sense of ownership,” said Parrino. “We’re proud of the work we’re doing, and we feel like the teachers are leading the work in most of the academic areas, and it gives you a sense of pride. Teachers are excited about the standards and teaching to the standards. They understand them better because a lot of their colleagues have worked with them, so they have more opportunities to discuss them with peers.”

The report also praised the state for the way it provides information to districts about curricula, professional development, and student assessments without dictating what the districts should do.

RAND’s study suggests that other states may be able to learn from what Louisiana has done noting that, “In an ideal education system, states, districts, teachers, and families are on the same page about what students should learn, and all educators have strong and aligned tools and resources at their disposal to help students get there.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.