ACT scores rise for 2nd straight year in Louisiana

The Times-Picayune, July 16, 2015—ACT scores slightly improved this year in Louisiana public schools, marking the second straight year of performance growth. On average, Louisiana students scored a 19.4 on the 36-point scale, up 0.2 from last year, according to data released Thursday (July 16). Last year’s score was up from the previous year’s 19.1. The slow-but-steady progress shows a state push toward higher expectations has paid off, state Education Superintendent John White said. “It reflects the extraordinary teaching and learning that has gone on in our schools,” White added. The ACT, one of two nationally used college-entrance and scholarship exams, is a big deal in Louisiana. All public high school students must take it, and they receive TOPS college scholarships to in-state schools based in part on their scores. Schools, too, are judged partly by ACT scores. Importantly, the test is a way to rank Louisiana’s students against the rest of the country. Historically, the state has lagged the national ACT average, and last year was no different — Louisiana’s 19.2 lagged the nation’s 21. Though this year’s national scores have yet to be released, White said he’s confident Louisiana is making strides. “I think you are going to see our state really rising up and competing with [other] states,” he said. More students earn college-going scores Just as colleges do, the state calculates composite scores using the best scores students receive, no matter how often students take tests. In Louisiana, a score of 17 or higher ensures two free years of community college through the state’s TOPS program, though a student must score an 18 to avoid remedial classes. A score of 20 or better lands a four-year college scholarship. This year, 39,752 Louisiana seniors took the ACT, slightly down from last year’s 39,773. Of those: Almost two-thirds scored an 18 or above. About 45 percent scored a 20 or better. The state also released number increases, which show gains or declines in students achieving certain scores over time. When comparing the 2014-15 school year to the 2011-12 academic year, 6,312 more students received an 18 or better this year, data show. Officials attributed the performance gains to raised expectations for English and mathematics — Louisiana adopted the Common Core state standards in 2010 — the overhaul of the state’s accountability system, expansion of Advanced Placement courses and the state’s Jump Start career education program. “By providing access to more rigorous courses and tests for all students, we are seeing achievement increase across the board,” White said. “Our state needs to keep raising its expectations if we expect to compete.” Some of the jump may be attributed to an increase in test-takers during some testing years. Still, the number gains are something to be proud of, White has said. African-American students have particularly made gains, he noted, with 7,287 earning an 18 or better, up from 5,202 three years ago. Louisiana students meeting...

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Post-Katrina African-Americans in New Orleans: income loss, education gain

The Times-Picayune, July 3, 2015–The post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans’ African-American community has made educational gains since the storm, but has not increased its median income as much as white households, according to a presentation Friday (July 3) by the Urban League of Greater New Orleans and the National Urban League. The organizations took advantage of a 2015 Essence Festival in full swing to answer participants’ questions about the city’s shifting post-K demographics and promote its “RISE: Katrina 10” conference in late August. “It is really important for us to have this conversation at Essence because we believe New Orleans as a majority African-American city is a microcosm of issues that others face,” Urban League of Greater New Orleans President and CEO Erika McConduit-Diggs said. African-Americans still represent the majority of the city’s post-K population — about 59 percent. But only 48 percent of African-American men are employed. “The challenge of black male employment is not a challenge unique to New Orleans. It is a challenge across the nation,” said former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League. The median income gap between black and white households in New Orleans has widened by 18 percent from 2005 to 2013, according to the Urban League report. That’s because the median white household in New Orleans increased from $49,262 to $60,553, while the mean African population only rose from $23,394 to $25,102, their analysis showed. Black children living in poverty has increased since Katrina as well, from 44 percent in 2005 to 50.5 percent in 2013, according to the Urban League. Morial spoke of “raising the floor on the minimum wage.” “I believe if people work, they ought to be able to afford the necessities of life,” he said. “When people earn more money, they will spend it in the economy. “If Congress can’t (raise the minimum wage) and the state can’t do it, then the city should find a way do it.” The Urban League presentation took place in the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which was packed with Essence participants attending speeches, conferences and job fairs. Morial said elsewhere in the convention center, the Urban League is hosting a “career connection zone” for Essence, with recruiters collecting resumes and contact information from prospective hires. “The challenge of black male employment is not unique to New Orleans. It is a challenge across the nation.” Among the positive post-K trends documented by the Urban League study, the high school graduation rate among New Orleans black public school students has risen from 56 percent in the 2004-05 school year to about 73 percent in 2013-14. New Orleans has not made a corresponding gain in the number of black men holding bachelor’s degrees or higher, however. A smaller percentage of African-American New Orleans men hold bachelors degrees now than before the storm – 13.7 percent in 2013 compared to 16.6 percent in 2005, according to the Urban League report. More African-American New Orleans women hold...

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BESE applauds Common Core compromise, plans February vote on revised standards

The Times-Picayune, June 16, 2015—What will Louisiana’s new math and English standards look like? On Feb. 2, 2016, we might know. A new review panel will take its final vote that day on standards to replace Common Core, according to a timeline the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved in committee Tuesday (June 16). The state board decided in early spring to review the controversial math and English benchmarks. A three-bill legislative compromise made that final and shortened the timeline. Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he will sign the bills into law. Having reached an agreement that once seemed impossible, the lion and the lamb lay down together Tuesday and snuggled. Education Superintendent John White, an ardent Common Core supporter, thanked state Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington and a Common Core critic, for ushering the compromise through the Legislature. BESE member Jane Smith, a Jindal appointee who was the first to come out against Common Core, thanked White. BESE President Chas Roemer, White’s ally, thanked Smith. A period for public online comment will start next month. Three content committees and an oversight committee will hammer out the first draft in October and November, in open meetings held in all corners of the state. Depending on the cost, the meetings may be live-streamed. After the committees issue their recommendations in February, BESE will vote on the standards and send them to the Legislature. Common Core will remain in place until then and could stick around if the Legislature or new governor rejects what BESE proposes. The board also gave preliminary approval to 101 reviewers to serve on those committees. The vast majority are teachers, or administrators such as curriculum specialists who are close to the classroom. St. Tammany Assistant Superintendent Regina Sanford chairs the oversight committee. No one knows what the new standards will look like, but people on all sides said Tuesday they were satisfied the review would be fair and transparent. Schroder said residents will have “the opportunity to participate, to voice their concerns — and that’s all we ever asked for.” White said the committee members were largely moderates who did not oppose Common Core but felt elements should be fixed. Retired teacher Lee Barrios, a Common Core critic who is running for BESE’s 1st District seat, questioned whether the committees would be working off Common Core — presumably tweaking those standards instead of starting from scratch — or with the state’s previous grade-level expectations. But Smith praised the “stellar educators” on the committees and said she was confident it wouldn’t just keep Common Core under a different name. White also gave an update on testing. This year, third- through eighth-graders took a new, national test developed by the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Common Core opponents urged families to boycott it. Contrary to pledges made in the spring, White did not...

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A winner in Louisiana’s state budget: K-12 education

The Times-Picayune, June 16, 2015—In a session focused on a higher education funding crisis, the Louisiana Legislature gave primary and secondary schools a boost. The budget, which awaits Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature, includes $3.7 billion for public schools. That’s about $84 million more than last year, Education Department officials said, and amounts to an extra $54 per student, for a total of $4,015. The Legislature also found $42 million for private school vouchers, a Jindal priority. Until the last taut minutes of the session Thursday (June 11), it looked like the base amount would stay at the current level, $3,961. But lawmakers came through at the wire. Education Superintendent John White thanked the Legislature, saying, “Even in difficult times, a quality education for our children should always be a top priority.” The bulk of K-12 education funding is uniquely protected in the Louisiana Constitution: The state must meet the budget request set by the Minimum Foundation Program. The Legislature may approve or reject the MFP, which the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education rewrites annually, but cannot change it. The MFP sets the cost of educating a typical child and spells out how much extra schools should get for students who have various special needs. To get the total, legislators multiply that amount by projected enrollment. The formula may also include additional money for special programs. The actual funding varies based on how much each district can supplement with sales and property taxes. In the year just past, the total per-pupil amount ranged from $7,760 in Acadia Parish to $11,212 in Caldwell Parish. This spring, the state board added a 1.375 percent increase for teacher raises plus $8 million for special education and Course Choice, a program that lets students take classes outside their school. That totaled about $45 million in new revenue. Officials anticipate a 6,300-student bump in enrollment, which cost about $34 million. If the Legislature nixes the new formula, the state continues to use the formula already in effect. That’s what happened this year. The request flew through the House but died in the Senate Education committee, and the state board didn’t have time to revise. Committee chair Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said the Senate committee just didn’t believe the state could cover the extra $45 million. Nor were its members convinced that any money left over should go to K-12 instead of health care or higher education, two areas facing drastic cuts. In a conversation Monday, Appel criticized how school systems spend their state money. “Louisiana is by far the highest per-student–funded state in the south,” he said, “but our teachers aren’t paid more.” So he was “not real happy” the Legislature added a $36 million line item sponsored by Rep. John Bel Edwards, D-Amite, that essentially mimicked the MFP. It gave school districts the 1.375 percent increase and the Course Choice money. The Legislature also found the $5.4 million...

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