State School Superintendent John White this week addressed changes for Louisiana Believes 2013-2014, the Department of Education’s plan that has changed academic standards through Course Choice, Compass and the scholarship program.
“Our schools have achieved tremendous things over the last year,” White said. “We are taking on a harder challenge in our state by putting our students on a level that is comparable to the playing field of any child across the country and by ensuring that our children have a path to career or college.”
Among the changes is the adjustment of the Early Childhood Network into a pilot program that will be in full effect in 2015. Until then, the department will work with various pilot networks to test for successful education policies for 3- and 4-year-olds.
White said there will be a stronger focus next year on what educators are teaching. To help teachers stay up to date on Louisiana classroom requirements a Teacher Toolbox and Louisiana Leader application were created with guides on what and how to teach.
Additionally, White said 2,000 Louisiana Teacher Leaders will be trained to give instruction on the new standards. The toolbox will be released at the end of the month with short- and long-term plans for teachers.
One area that White said needed significant improvement is educating children with disabilities. The department reported that only 29 percent of students in Louisiana who have special needs graduate.
White said teachers need more support through the Compass system to educate special-needs students. Such support would include academic monitoring, state funding and data reporting. The department plans to release a special-education guide this summer.
School Board Vice President Annette Ballard said Calcasieu Parish has set up programs to increase academic success for students with disabilities. She said losing any student is a concern and that success depends on meetings students’ individual needs.
“We would like to see all of our students graduate,” she said. “That is incumbent on us to make sure all assessments are in place and making all accommodations required.”
The updated plan includes more emphasis on post-high school education, starting with low-performing schools. According to reports from the department more than 63,000 children attend F-rated schools and only 19 percent of all Louisiana students graduate college.
Calcasieu School Board member Joe Andrepont said to boost graduation rates the state needs to have more focus on students receiving a two-year or technical degree. He disagreed with requiring all students to take the ACT as well as using those scores for the school’s performance rating. He said there should to be a distinction between what kinds of careers students want and what they are being required to learn in school.
“By separating the two we can accomplish a lot and we are going to increase our graduation rate,” he said. “It would be more beneficial to allocate funds into career paths that lead to ... job opportunities in the skilled workforce.”