Raising the Bar for K–12 Academics

Early Signals on How Louisiana's Education Policy Strategies Are Working for Schools, Teachers, and Students

by Julia H. Kaufman, Elizabeth D. Steiner, Matthew D. Baird

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Research Questions

  1. How are Louisiana's key actions for K–12 academics being perceived, interpreted, and acted upon by school systems and educators?
  2. How have student outcomes — as well as achievement gaps — changed in relation to Louisiana's recent actions for K–12 academics, starting in about 2012?

Since 2012, Louisiana has been developing policies to improve student outcomes in the areas of early childhood education, K–12 academics, teacher preparation, and graduation pathways; an overview of these efforts is provided in the 2018 RAND report Raising the Bar: Louisiana's Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes. The current report, which is part of a four-part series on the implementation and outcomes of these reforms, focuses on Louisiana's strategies to support and improve K–12 academics.

The authors' findings suggest that Louisiana's standards and curriculum recommendations have been largely supported and have driven widespread adoption of state-recommended curricula. In addition, mathematics and English language arts (ELA) teachers in Louisiana appear to be receiving more standards-aligned professional development than their peers in other states, and ELA teachers reported that their students were doing more standards-aligned classroom work than students in other states. However, interviews suggested some frustration with the pace of science and social studies reforms, and findings also suggest that achievement gaps between students in some ethnic groups may be widening.

Taken together, these reports provide an overview of how an ambitious set of interconnected state policies are making their mark on the teaching and learning happening in early childhood centers, schools, and teacher preparation institutions across the state. Louisiana's experiences might have implications for other states that are exploring changes to their education systems.

Key Findings

  • Louisiana school system administrators — central office staff and principals — and teachers knew about and generally supported the state's new standards and curriculum recommendations, and those curriculum recommendations appeared to drive widespread adoption of curricula the state had designated as high-quality.
  • Administrators and teachers reported some frustration with the fast-paced adoption of science and social studies standards and assessments before the availability of high-quality curricula.
  • Compared with other U.S. teachers, Louisiana English language arts (ELA) and mathematics teachers reported receiving more professional development related to standards, and many of the interviewees reported attending the state's professional development and training.
  • Louisiana ELA teachers reported more-extensive use of standards-aligned practices than teachers nationally; there were no differences in mathematics teachers' reports of their use of standards-aligned practices.
  • Louisiana's black and Hispanic students, and those receiving free or reduced-price lunch (FRL), underperformed on standardized assessments compared with their non-FRL, white, and Asian counterparts, and the gap between these groups may be widening.
  • Although this study cannot link outcomes to policy strategies directly, it does provide some positive signals of improvements in standards-aligned instruction and achievement for some students. At the same time, achievement gaps may be widening, which suggests a need for more supports for struggling and vulnerable student populations.

Research conducted by

This research was sponsored by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and conducted within RAND Education and Labor.

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