I am writing to update you on a proposal introduced in our state's legislature last week on issues of evaluation and accountability. It marks an important moment in the expansion of opportunity for Louisiana's children, and it is my hope that this practical agreement will hold as the legislative session comes to a close later this spring.
Raising academic expectations in a system of 700,000 students is not easy, but it has changed many lives already. Last week, I was honored to announce the state's high school graduation rate had reached an all-time high. That announcement came on the heels of many others like it in the past year. Of states using the ACT for their high school assessments, for example, Louisiana ranked number one for annual improvement in 2015. In 4th grade reading and math on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), Louisiana made greater gains than any other state in that year as well. And the number of graduates earning Advanced Placement credits in Louisiana grew more last year than in all states other than Massachusetts.
That is remarkable progress, and it has happened exclusively because of the hard work of students, parents, and educators.
Over the course of the last year, Louisiana educators stepped up again, this time forming committees to review and develop Louisiana Student Standards in English and mathematics that will provide a basis for learning fundamental skills in schools across the state. As a result of their diligent work, teachers will have clear guidance on their spring assessments by early fall, with practice materials available early winter.
As those standards make their way toward final consideration by BESE, Legislators, and the Governor later this spring, leaders of business organizations, teachers union and advocacy leaders, and local education leaders came together to establish a smooth transition to the new standards, reaching a compromise agreement that will, I have no doubt, assist in that purpose.
If passed and signed into law, the legislation would continue statewide transition policies in place for the last two years. This means that in 2016-2017 the state would hold constant the distribution of school letter grades; there would not be fewer 'A' schools next year no matter how challenging the new standards. Similarly, in 2016-2017 state test scores would not be required in determining student promotion, nor would value-added data be required in determining educator evaluations.
Equally important, the compromise legislation, if passed, would settle longstanding discussions about value-added data, which, under the agreement, would constitute 35 percent of evaluation scores for applicable educators when value-added data are produced again in 2018. Under this law, evaluators would use multiple measures of student growth, including both learning targets and value-added data, to arrive at 50 percent of a teacher's rating made up of evidence of student learning. This is a fair way of thinking about evaluation. More than that, it places the bulk of evaluation decision-making where it belongs: on the shoulders of school leaders, whose job it is to support and guide the educators in their charge.
We undertake these challenging transitions because our ambitions for ourselves are the best hope we have of helping our students achieve lives of opportunity. In spite of all successes earned in Louisiana classrooms, still too many high school graduates today are admitted to college only to find out they need remedial courses. Therefore, having completed our transition to new standards in 2017, in 2018 our state will begin its steady march toward 2025, when schools earning an 'A' rating must average 'mastery' level student performance on state tests. We owe these expectations to the next generation.
You have carried our state through turbulent times. We owe you the peace and calm necessary to sustain your focus. My hope is this path forward allows for a smoother transition and we can together maintain this unprecedented expansion of opportunity our state and its schools have undertaken.
As always, thank you for all you do for our children!
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