ABCs of Public Schools
The ABCs. The three Rs. Dressing out for PE. Deciphering acronyms about education seemed a lot less intimidating when we were in school than they do now. Through its nature, education is forever an evolving practice, so just when it seems you’ve finally got a handle on all the important aspects of your child’s schooling, hearing a teacher say, “your child will be given the DRA next week” or the principal announce, “our SPS has increased” may leave you feeling out of the loop. Whether your child attends a traditional, magnet, or charter public school, the following guide will equip you with the need-to-know information behind this year’s educational acronyms.
If you hear of changes coming to your local school from “Bessie,” don’t be alarmed. It’s not a cow that’s making these decisions, but the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Located on North Third Street in Baton Rouge, BESE serves as an administrative body that adopts regulations and enacts policies governing the operations of our state’s schools. These adopted rules carry the force and effect of law.
Adopted in East Baton Rouge and Ascension Parish last year, the Developmental Reading Assessment is used to assess early literacy skills and is approved for use by the Louisiana Department of Education. According to developers from the Pearson Assessments, DRA evaluations allow teachers to “systematically observe, record, and evaluate changes in student reading performance.” East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools test students at the beginning of the year and again at mid-year, as well as at the end of the school year.
“ELA” is used to refer to English Language Arts, a discipline comprising grammar, writing, spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. More than a decade ago, the Louisiana Department of Education merged classes that were traditionally taught separately, such as English and Reading, to create an environment where students can learn about each in the context of the other. Even though the classes are taught as one, students receive the same amount of instruction as they would receive in two classes.
According to the Louisiana Department of Education, Ascension Parish is the only school district with an approved waiver to administer the Formative Assessment System for Teachers, instead of DIBELS, for grades K-3. Developed by the University of Minnesota, FAST allows a student’s skills to be evaluated relative to other grade levels, which is not currently provided by most traditional assessments. However, FAST also measures a student’s reading fluency and comprehension.
Individualized Education Programs are written plans developed for your child, with your participation, designed to meet his needs and define his goals. Teachers, counselors, and parents form a Pupil Appraisal Team that will work together to construct the best plan for a child facing trials in the classroom. Students who struggle may require special education and related services to meet their unique needs and to support them in attaining both their short and long term educational goals. These services are governed by federal legislation via the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004).
All Louisiana public school students in grades 3-8 take the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program test in Math, English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science. (Students in third, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade take the iLEAP version of the Science test since new state standards for Science are in development.) While the state has gone back to using the LEAP test after a brief period of administering the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, there have been substantial revisions to the test: In addition to multiple choice questions in all subject areas, students must also answer constructed response questions, many that are multistep. Individual student scores are reported directly to the parent each spring.
Positive Behavior Intervention Support is used statewide with the specific goal of replacing reactive disciplinary measures with preventative measures. PBIS is not a specific “model,” but is composed of a broad range of school-wide and individual strategies for achieving important social and learning outcomes while preventing problem behavior with all students. These strategies include rewarding expected behavior to all students instead of placing the emphasis on discouraged behavior. Of PBIS, Ascension Parish Superintendent David Alexander tells students, “We emphasize the importance of respect among fellow students, faculty, staff, and administration. We want you to have a strong support system, so we urge you to develop strong, positive relationships with your teachers, administrators, and other adults on campus.”
A School Performance Score is issued by the Louisiana Department of Education for public schools each year. A numerical score and a letter grade are calculated based on a formula separate for elementary, middle, and high schools. These scores are computed using various sources of information such as achievement on standardized tests, graduation rate, and the earning of advanced credits.
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Collectively, these subjects are referred to as “STEM.” With a desire to see American students become world leaders in science and math, the United States has renewed its commitment to focusing on STEM courses. Louisiana offers graduation pathways revolved around STEM. East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools is home to numerous STEM programs housed within their schools, including curriculums on Computer Gaming, Engineering, Web Design, Robotics, and Health Sciences.
Up-to-date and in-depth information about Louisiana’s public schools can be found on the Louisiana Department of Education’s website at louisianabelieves.com. ■