Oct 18, 2017

Louisiana Study Group Issues Statewide Call to Action to Shift Practices, Develop New Service Models

BATON ROUGE, La. - Louisiana students in alternative education settings rarely receive the academic, behavioral, social and emotional services needed to address the root cause of their exit from their home school, according to a report released today by the Louisiana Department of Education's Alternative Education Study Group. The report presents a framework to shift current practices and develop short-and long-term alternative services for students.

"The road to achieving an improved model for alternative education services in our state is long," said State Superintendent John White. "But this report underscores its importance and urgency. Too many young people in serious need of help are not receiving the services they need in Louisiana's alternative schools. The time to act is now."

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. Louisiana currently has 35 alternative education schools and 139 alternative education programs. As of 2015-2016, the school year that informed the report, more than 18,000 students were referred to an alternative education site.

In March 2017, the Department convened the Alternative Education Study Group to provide guidance for improving these sites, as well as current practices for students who are most at-risk for not completing their education. The group--comprised of 40 school system superintendents, professional school counselors, instruction supervisors, civic and religious leaders, principals, representatives from partner agencies, and current alternative education school system staff--has since met four times to review school and student performance data and study national models. At the same time, Department staff made site visits to alternative schools and programs at 47 sites in 21 school systems across Louisiana, as well as out-of-state locations for comparison, and surveyed 231 alternative education principals and school counselors.

These collective efforts led the group to learn students in Louisiana alternative education settings are not receiving appropriate and effective interventions and supports to address the root cause of their exit from the home school. These gaps in the services provided often mean students experience limited face-to-face teaching and have limited access to specialized educator engagement and support, academic counseling, appropriate technology, or career and technical options. These gaps also result in inconsistent transitional procedures upon entry or exit from the alternative school or program, a lack of clarity for students and families on what to expect at the alternative site, and delays in the sharing of a student's record between the referring home school and the alternative site.

In addition, the group found:

  • Students referred to an alternative site in Louisiana are five times more likely than their peers to drop out of school. The average statewide dropout rate for 7th through 12thgraders in alternative school is 19 percent, while the average statewide dropout rate for all students in these grade levels is 4 percent.
  • The majority of students are exited from their home schools for minor to moderate infractions. Approximately 88 percent of students at alternative sites in Louisiana are there for non-violent offenses. The top reason for discipline referrals is willful disobedience, an infraction that does not have a uniform definition or application within the state. During the 2015-2016 school year, 14 percent of out-of-school suspensions and 10 percent of out-of-school expulsions were for willful disobedience.
  • A disproportionate number of African-American students are enrolled in alternative education, due to expulsion and suspension. African-American students are 3.25 times more likely to be expelled and 7.8 times more likely to be suspended, when compared to Caucasian students. African-American and Caucasian students account for 44 and 46 percent of the student population in the state, respectively, but African-American students account for 67 percent of the students suspended to alternative sites and 70 percent of the students expelled to the sites. In contrast, Caucasian students account for 27 percent of alternative site suspensions and 24 percent of the expulsions. 
  • Historically disadvantaged students are exited from their home schools to an alternative education site at a higher frequency. The state's population of African-American students is 44 percent, yet in the 2015-2016 school year, 85 percent of students in alternative settings were African-American. This disproportionality can also be seen among students who are economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities. The state's population of students who are economically disadvantaged is 69 percent; 85 percent of alternative education students fit this definition. And the state's population of students with disabilities is 11 percent, but the percentage of students with disabilities in an alternative school or program is 26 percent.
  • Approximately two-thirds of the students enrolled in alternative education in Louisiana are male. Male students make up 51 percent of the state's total population, yet account for 66 percent of the student population in alternative schools and programs.

In response, the group developed guidance that calls on the state and local school systems to create a new model of alternative education that includes both short-term and long-term services. Short term services would provide academic and behavioral remediation at the home school for moderate challenges, such as students that need intervention to avoid the risk of expulsion for behavior or truancy. Long term services would be designed for students that need intensive and extensive resources or remediation to be successful.

The model would require that educators be well-equipped to educate their students according to their individual behavioral, social and emotional needs. The model would also necessitate consistent data collection and evaluation of outcomes in ways appropriate for schools serving unique populations. Finally, the model would include robust transitional structures and community partnerships to ensure students requiring alternative education services receive the additional supports necessary as they progress toward a college or career pathway. 

"The work of the Alternative Education Study Group is beneficial to all Louisiana stakeholders, as we study methods to improve alternative education services and practices statewide," said Kevin R. George, Superintendent of St. John the Baptist School District and a member of the study group. "In order to effectively serve all students, we must continue to evaluate state and national practices to encourage the development of new and innovative ways to deliver quality instruction to our students."

To read the full report, click here.

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