Oct 16, 2018

Accountability Shifts Part of Bold Policy Revisions in Response to Report Identifying Weaknesses, Outlining Recommendations for Redesign

BATON ROUGE, La. -- A committee of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) today approved the adoption of a new accountability system for alternative education schools across the state. The new accountability system will rate these sites based on formulas that better align to their unique mission.

Alternative education services intend to provide students the opportunity to remediate behavior and/or bolster academic achievement in an environment that meets their individual needs. These legally required services are offered through alternative schools and alternative programs. In 2017-2018, Louisiana had 34 schools and 138 programs that served more than 18,000 referred students.

Alternative education schools have historically been evaluated using an identical rating formula to traditional public schools. That formula, however, did not speak to the goals of alternative education schools, which are primarily rooted in academic and behavioral growth.

In 2017, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which allowed states to modify their accountability systems for alternative education sites, was put into place, and Louisiana began collaborating with education and community leaders to renew its approach.

The new accountability system, which will be voted on by the full BESE board tomorrow, bases performance scores on two formulas. For alternative education elementary and middle schools, scores are based solely on students' state assessment progress. For alternative education high schools, scores are based equally on state assessment progress, students' attainment of post-secondary credentials, and students' accumulation of core academic credits in one year and over time.

"As our state continues to pursue its mission of defining excellence in alternative education,  this new system presents a meaningful opportunity for alternative education schools to have their good work reflected in a positive way," said State Superintendent John White. "It creates an opportunity for us all, specifically parents and educators, to truly understand whether alternative schools are assisting students in getting back on track and guiding them toward high school graduation."

The new accountability system is part of a larger package of alternative education policy revisions. The BESE committee today also raised the bar for what is expected of alternative education sites to be authorized.

Alternative education schools and programs are reviewed and approved annually by BESE, per state law. The new authorization process, if approved by the full board tomorrow, will require school systems to explain how their alternative education placement will ensure appropriate transitions between traditional schools and alternative education sites, base alternative education planning on student data, develop comprehensive plans that address both behavioral and academic needs, and rely on evidence-based practices, including targeted professional development for educators who serve at such sites.

School systems, which will continue to have the ability to designate an alternative education site as either a program or a school, will transition to the new approval process over a three-year period, starting in 2019.

"The new approval process complements the overall accountability improvements for alternative education schools and programs," said BESE President Dr. Gary Jones. "Establishing strong, clearly-defined requirements for eligibility, evaluation, planning and support at the outset will help to ensure that alternative programs are more effective in meeting the unique needs of these students."

The policy revisions come a year after a study group commissioned by BESE to study the state's alternative education schools and programs issued its final report. The study group found a large number of Louisiana students are referred for out-of-school interventions based on infractions that could potentially be addressed within the traditional school setting. The group also found alternative schools and programs should be more focused on specific life and academic outcomes for the students they serve.

The Louisiana Department of Education will provide redesign resources and strategies to assist school systems with implementation of the new alternative education policies.

This fall, the Department will provide schools with a behavioral intervention vendor guide, a portfolio of  evidence-based interventions for use within a multi-tier system of supports, a vetted portfolio of evidence-based  social-emotional learning curricula, and opportunities for ongoing face-to-face professional learning.

In the spring, the Department will provide federal grant funding to schools with high rates of out-of-school referrals and persistently low student performance, as part of the state's School Redesign Grant process and as outlined by the state's plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

"We are very excited and appreciative of the LDOE and BESE's focus on alternative schools and programs and their recognition that we should hold these schools to high standards because they serve some of the most vulnerable and important young people in our communities," said Elizabeth Ostberg, executive director at The Net Charter High School in New Orleans.

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