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Will We Pass? Louisiana Schools Now Being Graded on Interests and Opportunities for Students

Part one in a series on arts education in New Orleans

by Torey Hayward

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, schools across Louisiana will be graded on their ability to provide students access to a well-rounded education in what will be labeled as the Interests and Opportunities Index on the annually released school report cards. This addition aims to ensure that schools prioritize opportunities that enrich students’ lives and may expose them to lifelong passions. In this effort, for instance, a high school principal may be motivated to add a theater course to a school’s master schedule as opposed to an additional ACT Test Preparation course in order to gain points in the new Interests and Opportunities category of the report card. The measure, one of few like it in the country, will take a diminutive step in holding schools accountable to providing students across all grade levels access to courses in Health & Physical Education, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, World Languages, Leadership Development, and Technology & Engineering.

In the first year, this Interests & Opportunities measure will account for five-percent of a school’s School Performance Score (SPS).

The five-percent for Kindergarten-8th grade schools will be comprised of two parts:

  • Completion of a survey- On the survey principals will report on the current availability of Interests & Opportunities on their campus

  • Current enrollment in courses within the following categories- Health & Physical Education, Visual Arts, Performing Arts, World Languages, Leadership Development, and Technology & Engineering.

For high schools the five-percent will come from one factor:

  • 100% of the score will come from the completion of the survey.

It is important to note that this year has been deemed a “hold harmless” year as the Interest and Opportunity score will only be added to a school’s SPS score if it benefits the school’s overall grade. The data gathered in this first-year will go on to serve as a baseline for evaluating the performance of schools in upcoming years.

This measure is certainly a step in the right direction of ensuring that we begin to balance the high stakes, high pressure environments schools have become with the collaborative, creative, Mr. Rogers-esque places to which we dream of sending our children. To incentivize the addition of arts and other potential pathways to the traditional curriculum will provide numerous overall positive benefits to students across the state. However, the measure does bring into question- How will a state that already battles vast educational inequities balance holding schools accountable to providing a high-quality well-rounded education when many schools are struggling to meet the mark already established by the state? For educators already working in low-resourced schools, how will the additional accountability factor impact an already existing strain on resources and personnel? For educators working in well-resourced schools, how might this extra measure impact departments and programs that already report lacking funds and support? On the other hand, the initiative brings into question whether or not the arts and other enrichment activities can or will be agents in closing the achievement gap. Will schools that struggle with areas that the arts have proven to benefit begin to see improvements in other areas that substantially impact student success?

As a part of an ongoing exploration of some of these questions,the next part of this article will gain insight from other teacher-artists, art teachers, and ed-art enthusiasts as a way to dig deeper into the role arts education currently plays, has played, and will play in the future of education in the state of Louisiana.

Do you know an amazing, arts educator or teaching artists? Are you generally just excited about talking arts education? Reach out to me at t.haywards@gmail.com!