Jun 30, 2015

ESEA Waiver Proposal Represents First-of-its-Kind Response to National Issue

BATON ROUGE, La. – The Louisiana Department of Education today submitted a renewal application for the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waiver, including a first-of-its kind school accountability incentive and diploma pathway for students with significant disabilities. The application updates the state’s waiver first achieved in 2012, providing flexibility from restrictive provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

While Louisiana’s accountability system, approved under the 2012 waiver, awards points for high school graduation and career readiness certificates, students with the most significant disabilities, who are assessed on the “Louisiana Alternate Assessment 1 (LAA 1),” have not been counted in the system, as they do not take state tests required of other students under federal law. This situation is typical in states across the country, leaving such students unaccounted for and at risk of not receiving academic and workplace preparation.

“Federal rules have left students with the most significant disabilities out of state accountability and diploma systems for too long,” said State Superintendent John White. “We must protect these students and provide them the academic and career preparation they need to be successful upon leaving high school.”

Students who take the LAA 1 in Louisiana have historically received no credential upon graduating or a “skills certificate.” There are 3,017 such students in Louisiana high schools for the 2014-2015 school year. These students are also not covered by the recently created Act 833, which provides a pathway to graduation for students struggling with traditional tests. Students assessed on the LAA 1 are essentially unaccounted for in high school accountability systems.

The proposal changes this by creating a set of diploma requirements specific for students assessed on the LAA 1 and by proposing to award 100 points in the state’s “graduation index” to high schools for every student achieving this diploma, no different from any other student.

In order to achieve the diploma, the student will complete the following processes or tasks:

  • Complete 23 course credits, including the same number of core academic courses as required in the traditional pathway.
  • Achieve the standard of proficiency on the LAA 1 assessment or complete a portfolio demonstrating student growth on learning standards and IEP goals.
  • Successfully complete a workforce readiness program that includes foundational skills and hands-on workplace experiences.

“Recognizing the accomplishments of students with the most significant disabilities who earn diplomas in the school and district accountability measure is an incredible step forward,” said Shawn Fleming, Deputy Director of the Louisiana Developmental Disabilities Council. “The Council is pleased the Louisiana Department of Education took this bold move and have committed to continued shifts toward fully valuing achievements and outcomes of all students.”

“Parents have been advocating for the successful high school completion of all students to be recognized in our accountability system. I was so excited when the Department reached out to work together on this plan. I am very grateful to the Department for doing something no other state has done and that's to make sure all students have a path to a high school diploma,” said Ashley McReynolds, Statewide Support Coordinator for LaTeach.

“Members of our entire education community have worked very hard to create an alternative pathway for a career diploma for our students with significant disabilities. This pathway ensures our students will acquire the skills needed to become contributing members of their communities, while celebrating their accomplishments through the issuance of a high school diploma,” said St. Bernard Parish Superintendent Doris Voitier. “In recognition of providing successful pathways for our students, our teachers and schools will gain positive outcomes in our accountability program.”

Public comment on the ESEA flexibility waiver was received for a week prior to today’s submission to the U.S. Department of Education.

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