A decade ago Louisiana set a statewide goal of having all schools in the state achieving a School Performance Score of 100. That means that every school, on average, performs at a level of “Basic” and that means, on average, students in those schools are prepared to advance to the next grade level.

Education WatchWell, those School Performance Scores for the past year just came out this week and the news is pretty good. When the accountability program began in 1999, the state average score was 69. Last year it was 84. And the Louisiana Department of Education just announced that Louisiana’s 2009 score is 91. Though the state on average has not met the 10-year goal, it is within sight, and more importantly, many more students are getting a better education in Louisiana than a decade ago.

The slow but steady improvement in the last 10 years tells us that when you raise academic standards, our educators and students will rise to meet them. It also tells us we can and should reach higher than the goal we set a decade ago. The score of 100 represents only a fundamental grade skills level, not mastery of the content. And as an average for the state, a score of 91 or even 100 means a significant number of students are still academically below grade level.

In terms of individual School Performance Scores, while more children are in better-performing schools, only 28 percent of our schools have actually reached their 10-year goal, meaning more than 70 percent still have work to do. On an encouraging note, this year’s scores show that 43 percent of schools reached their individual "Growth Targets" in 2009, which is a significant improvement over last year’s 25 percent. On the downside that means more than half our schools achieved only minimal growth, stayed the same, or declined. Again, there’s more work to do.

Louisiana has also reduced the number of “Academically Unacceptable” schools, those scoring 60 or below. We had 388 in 1999 but are down to 55 today. That’s an impressive reduction, and underscores the value of our accountability system and the vital role the Recovery School District in New Orleans is playing when it comes to turning around our failing schools.

But there is a lesson there, as well. Generally, the schools that showed the most improvement in the RSD were charter schools in New Orleans that have brought different models and approaches to educating children in high-poverty urban settings. Overall, the RSD scores are still too low, but it must also be said they faced the most difficult challenges in the state and in spite of that their trajectory is solidly in the right direction.

So what’s the take away from all of this? Overall, the improvement in School Performance Scores across the state a decade after we created our school accountability system is significant and fewer students are in chronically failing schools. Our strong accountability system, if preserved, will help ensure those kids that remain in these schools will get the attention they deserve and are not lost in a numbers game.

The bottom line is this: Louisiana has achieved historic improvements in education and is moving in the right direction thanks to hard work from our teachers, administrators, students, parents and accountability standards that demand more out of our system. The method that 10 years ago seemed too burdensome to some and garnered resistance to standards and public reporting of results, is proving to be effective, realistic, and working as it was intended – and it should be maintained.

Our state leaders and our education community should demand that we continue this success and not bow to pressure from some quarters to lower standards or seek to get around them. Thanks to school accountability we have seen real and measurable improvements in our schools. The tangible benefit is that more children in Louisiana are better prepared for life, will have more opportunities and choices for careers, higher income, and better health and quality of life for their families. And that was the ultimate 10-year goal.


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