Louisiana Granted Millions for Student and Teacher Support

On October 14, 2019, the Louisiana Department of Education announced being awarded five competitive federal grants, totaling $115 million. These grants will be utilized for student and teacher support.

Louisiana Believes states the grants will be utilized towards enhancing the literacy programming and instruction; increasing mental health services for students, including those with past trauma and those who are historically at a disadvantage; help teacher earn credentials in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (also known as S.T.E.M.); and initiate a leadership program for both current and future special education administrators.

“The U.S. Department of Education continues to recognize Louisiana as a state that generates creative ideas to solve critical problems. These five new awards will support the implementation of plans to address many of our schools’ and students’ greatest challenges. We look forward to collaborating with state agencies, school systems and community partners to implement effective solutions to these pressing concerns.” says State Superintendent John White.

The grants, varying in dollar amount and length, include:

  • Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant for Student and Teacher Support

The largest grant, it totals $100 million over the span of five years. It will contribute to literacy support for schools that identify as having low academic performance across the state by helping purchase top-rated reading curricula and instructional materials, provide educators with access to professional development, provide support to students who struggle with reading, and provide evidence-based literary resources for families. Louisiana Department of Education’s goal is “to serve 600 high-needs schools and early childhood education providers, 2,000 local leaders, 9,600 teachers, and 240,000 disadvantaged children by the end of the five-year grant period.”

  • Trauma Recovery Grant for Student and Teacher Support

This $7.5 million award spans 5 years and will help provide and increase mental health services in an effort to increase academic performance and decrease absence and decrease discipline rates. “The state education department will partner with the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) and community agencies to pay for direct mental health services for students who have experienced trauma, with a particular focus on low-income, foster, homeless, and migrant students.”

  • Improving Pre-Engineering and Computer Science Education through Micro-credentialing Grant

Totaling $4 million over 4 years, the award will develop a pathway for teachers to earn certificates of expertise in STEM fields and encourage the expansion of STEM pathways in the school systems.

  • Mental Health Service Professional Demonstration Grant for Student and Teacher Support

Funding a partnership between Louisiana Believes and LSU School of Social Work, the $2.5 million award will encourage an effort to expand and strengthen the school-based mental health force over a 5 year time frame. The “Louisiana School Social Work Expansion Project” aims to provide mental health services to high-needs schools and improve the culture and climate to foster a healthy attitude and prepare students for employment and to lead fulfilling lives as responsible citizens,

  • Special Education Leadership Grant for Student and Teacher Support

This award, which totals $1 million and spans 5 years, is intended to establish a “Special Education Leader Fellowship”. The fellowship will span a year and be a comprehensive development program for current and future special education leaders across Louisiana.

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Louisiana National Blue Ribbon Schools

According to Louisiana Believes, on September 26, 2019, the U.S Department of Education announced seven Louisiana schools that won National Blue Ribbon Schools awards.

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program was established in 1982 and seeks to acknowledge and reward public and nonpublic schools nationally that work hard to close achievement gaps or are high-performing. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has a mission to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” as stated on their website. Over 9,000 schools have been presented with this sought after award, gracing the schools with a symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

State Superintendent, John White, expresses his pride over his school system: “We applaud these schools for their ability to either steadily improve student achievement over subsequent years or consistently remain one of the top-performing schools in the state. What an honor it is to have them represent Louisiana.”

The following two schools were recognized as “Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools ”, which means they are among the state’s highest-performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s subgroups and all students over a five-year span:

Bayou Black Elementary School, Terrebonne Parish

St. Charles Elementary School,Lafourche Parish

The following four schools were recognized as “Exemplary High Performing Schools”, which means they are among the state’s highest-performing schools overall. Student subgroup performance and high school graduation rates are at their highest points as well:

Haynes Academy School for Advanced Studies, Jefferson Parish

Early College Academy, Lafayette Parish

Patrick F. Taylor Science and Technology Academy, Jefferson Parish

Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced Studies, Jefferson Parish

One nonpublic school, Parkview Baptist School in Baton Rouge, received the national honor.

An awards ceremony for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program will be held in Washington, D.C., on November 14 & 15 to honor the winning schools.

Schools can only be nominated once in a five year-span and are nominated by their Chief State School Officer. The U.S. Department of Education determines the number of nominations per state based on the number of students and schools in each state.  One-third of the public schools nominated by each state must include student populations with at least 40% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The school’s nominations occurred back in January of 2019, leaving school administrators honored and over the moon.

Karla H. Russo, Principal of Haynes Academy for Advanced Studies in Jefferson Parish: “We are honored to be nominated as a potential National Blue Ribbon School. Our faculty, staff, students, parents, and community work together to create an environment that fosters student achievement and success, and I am proud to see their dedication and commitment to learning recognized.”

Andrew Vincent, Principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Advanced Studies in Jefferson Parish stated “The Thomas Jefferson High School community is thrilled to be nominated for this prestigious distinction. We are proud of our students, staff, teachers, families, and community members that have continually ensured our success as a school. Thomas Jefferson High School would be honored to be recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School.”

To read more about the nominations, click here.

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Louisiana Early Literacy Commission Created

Louisiana Believes recently released an article titled, Louisiana Department of Education to Convene Group to Study Early Literacy in which they announced Monday, September 9 marked the first meeting of the newly developed Louisiana Early Literacy Commission-a section within the Louisiana Department of Education. The Commission is comprised of state leaders, educators, and parents that will research to determine the way Louisiana can create and implement a cohesive system of reading instruction for children starting at birth and ending with the third grade. The Early Literacy Commission was formed by the Louisiana Legislature during the 2019 regular session.

The Commission will come together and meet every month. Their main goal will be to research and analyze information to assess the ways evidence-based reading is being taught in the state’s public schools and early childhood education locations. Secondly, they will assess the amount of educators that have been trained and possess skills in evidence-based reading instruction. The educators being assessed will include teachers and instructors from kindergarten to the third grade, special education teachers, and reading specialists. Lastly, they will evaluate state colleges of education and alternative certification programs to evaluate the ways in which they teach and study evidence-based reading practices. This will include programs for teachers and instructors from kindergarten to the third grade, special education teachers, and education specialists.

When the Early Literacy Commission  convenes in January 2020, it will give a final list of recommendations to the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Louisiana State Legislature.

The final recommendation list will include:

  • The ways in which the state can guarantee that teacher preparation programs provide their students with the knowledge needed to teach evidence-based instruction from their first days;
  • The ways the state can help the public school systems can adopt reading programs that maximize the usage of evidence-based reading instruction; and
  • The ways in which the state can make sure it provides its educators with the evidence-based skills needed to ensure the reading proficiency its third graders.

In addition to its research and recommendations, the Commission will create a tentative timeline for increasing the third grade reading proficiency while establishing benchmarks for the near future.

The creation of the Early Literacy Commission was done at the insistence of the Louisiana State Legislature. They urged the Department of Education to create the group for the following reasons:

  1. Students that are not proficient readers by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.
  2. Those who do not possess a basic level of reading proficiency are six times as likely to drop out of high school
  3. Students without a proficient third grade reading level are almost two-thirds of those that do not graduate from high school on time.
  4. Early reading in childhood has a positive impact on collegiate attendance.
  5. Ninth graders that read on level as third graders are three times more likely to attend college.
  6. 85 percent of all youth that have interactions with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, along with 60 percent of prison inmates.
  7. The state of Louisiana spends over $270,000 a year to remediate students that read below their grade level.

These programs are the way in which the state can take action in making sure its students are literate and upstanding citizens. They are aiming to begin the foundation early in ways that have proven to be effective in other communities.

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Louisiana Financial Aid Sets Precedent

Not only are Louisiana high school students once again setting a national standard, they are making a statement. Louisiana Believes reports that the Pelican State is currently being highlighted for its one of a kind financial aid policy. The Louisiana Financial Aid Access Policy was the first of its kind in the nation and is now serving as a model for other states that are looking to make sure all public high school students have equal access to a post-secondary education.

The Louisiana Financial Aid Access Policy requires all public school students in the state to take one of the following actions. Students must either:

* Submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA); or

* Apply for the Taylor Opportunity Program Scholarship (TOPS); or

* Submit an opt-out non-participation form (Students can also receive an opt-out form through the school system).

One of the aforementioned requirements, in addition to other standards, must be met for a high school senior to be eligible for graduation.

The Louisiana Department of Education also took steps to make sure that the policy is instituted effectively throughout the state. The state created the Louisiana Counselor Assistance Center. Louisiana also now provides statewide senior FAFSA completion rates within a given district. Lastly, the state offers various grants to its school systems for developing their own ways to directly communicate with parents on the top of financial planning for a student’s postsecondary career.

The state initiated the Financial Aid Access Policy because most of its high school graduates are unknowingly eligible for merit-based or need-based financial aid. FAFSA awards can be used at four-year universities, two-year colleges, and technical training programs. The FAFSA application estimates how much money a student’s family will contribute to a postsecondary education and then uses the information to determine student grants, work study eligibility, and how much a student will be offered in educational loans.

The Louisiana legislature passed the initial policy in 2015, which then took effect in 2018. Two states, Texas and Illinois, have already passed laws extremely similar to the one in Louisiana. The Michigan legislature is also considering a similar policy with Indiana and California in talks to follow.

Since the policy was instituted in 2018, Louisiana became number one in the United States of America for the amount of students that filled out and submitted the FAFSA. Louisiana is also number one in the nation for yearly growth in the amount of FAFSA applications. According to the National College Access Network (NCAN), 77.1 percent of Louisiana students submitted their FAFSA application by the priority deadline of July 1. This was a 25.9 percent increase from the year prior.

Louisiana’s increase made up 19 percent of the nation’s FAFSA completions.

This year was no different. 78.7 percent of students in Louisiana completed the FAFSA in the exact same time frame. This made Louisiana number one in the nation again for FAFSA applications completed by the priority deadline. This percentage is also a reason why more students from the Pelican State are enrolling in college more than ever before

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The amount of Louisiana students earning college credit during high school is on the rise. According to  data collected by the Louisiana Department of Education, more students earned college credit on this past school year’s College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams than previous years.

CLEP is a program that gives students the possibility to show their understanding of introductory collegiate concepts and earn college credit that applies to various postsecondary institutions nationwide.

State leaders are still in the process of finding the best way to give early college credit opportunities to all Louisiana high school students. The newest pathway is the Dual Enrollment Framework Task Force. This group will study various ways for high school students to earn credits that will count towards not only their high school diploma, but also prerequisites at different postsecondary institutions across the state.

The newly released CLEP data shows how many students are benefitting from the program. The amount of high school students earning college credits has increased by 5 percent since the 2017-2018 school year. Since the program’s conception during the 2014-2015 school year, 558 percent more students have the opportunity for CLEP exams.

The amount of CLEP examinations taken during a school year has also increased. The number of CLEP exams taken during the 2018-2019 school year shows a 52 percent increase from the previous year. Since 2015, the program has seen a 521 percent increase. These new numbers man that Louisiana leads the nation in the number of CLEP exams given to high school students.

In total, high school students from Louisiana earned over 16,000 credit hours in 2019. This saved approximately $7.7 million in college tuition and fees.

If students receive a 50 or higher on their CLEP exam, they could receive from 3 – 12 credits of college-level work before leaving high school. The more credits earned in high school, the less the student will have to pay for at university.

While saving $7.7 million is only an estimate, the amount of money saved is probably higher. This is due to the American Council on Education’s recommendation of college credits for each subject being higher than three credits.

CLEP is only a single way for students to earn college credit during their high school years. Another option is Advanced Placement. The Advanced Placement program offers high school courses with a college-level curriculum. A different alternative would be Dual Enrollment. If a student partakes in dual enrollment, they would simultaneously enroll at both a high school and a college, earning credits at both.

Dual enrollment is the focus of the state’s new Dual Enrollment Framework Task Force. The task force was created during the 2019 Louisiana regular session. The Dual Enrollment Framework Task Force’s main goal will be to evaluate existing laws and policies in regards to early college credit opportunities. They will also collaborate with other state agencies and groups partaking in the same work. The group will then present their results and recommendations to the state’s Senate and House committees on education.

The group’s first meeting was July 24. The next will be September 9.

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Louisiana Teachers Gather for Annual Summit

The Louisiana Department of Education held the 7th Teacher Leader Summit on Wednesday, June 26th through Friday, June 28th, 2019. More than 6,500 Louisiana teachers and educators, representing almost every school system in the state, gathered at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. This annual Summit was created in response to teachers who thought classroom educators should have a larger voice in statewide academic decisions.At the first statewide summit in April 2013, there were 2,000 teachers in attendance. Since then, the number of participating teachers has tripled with an approximated 6,500 teachers in attendance this year. They have since branched out to a blend of year-round-in-person and online trainings to expand the opportunities available to Teacher Leaders.

From Wednesday through Friday, these over 6,000educators spent their time at the Summit attending and conducting professional development training workshops, collaborating with one another as peers, and learning how they can best play active roles in shaping the future of up-and-coming Louisiana minds and the future of education in Louisiana. The collection of training and workshop topics vary from early childhood development and education to school improvement and Louisiana’s innovative assessment pilot, which was enacted to study how the state tackles issues of school accountability, student assessment, data transparency, and school improvement. In addition to these workshops led by Teacher Leaders, the Summit will host “Ed Talks,” which is a speaker series that featured the six national education leaders.

The 7th Teacher Leader Summit ushered in preparations for the 2019-2020 school year and those to follow. The summit overview listed its objectives as follows:

“This year’s event will equip educators in every level of the system with tools and training that provide all students the opportunity to:

  • Build knowledge of the world
  • Read meaningful texts
  • Express ideas through writing and speaking
  • Solve complex math problems
  • Attend a school that treats them with dignity and respect”

The State Superintendent John White stated, “Louisiana has a longstanding commitment to raising the bar, and as a result, more students than ever before are graduating in four years, earning college and career credentials, achieving eligibility for TOPS scholarships, and pursuing post-secondary education and training.” State Superintendent White continued, “During the 7th annual Teacher Leader Summit, we will celebrate those hard-earned gains, but more importantly, we will focus on how our collaborative efforts can make those opportunities accessible to all students, including our most vulnerable.”

Students from The Performing Arts Academy of St. Bernard Parish performed in the convention center’s theater for the inauguration of the event. Superintendent White addressed the current state of education in Louisiana and outlined the academic strategy moving forward into the future. The 2018 Louisiana Teacher of the Year and recipient of the inaugural Louisiana Public Interest Fellowship, Kimberly Eckert, announced the winner of the Fellowship for the 2019-2020 school year. Lastly, South Lafourche High School was honored with the title of 2019 Louisiana Teacher Leader Summit Premier School.

Watch a stream of the opening ceremony here.

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