A complicating factor in using ACT scores to estimate improvement in public education in Louisiana is the fact that scores are averaged for all students taking the test including both public and private school students. It is impossible to know whether a gain in the average is due to public school students or to the fairly large number of private school students taking the test. The State Department of Education however, is claiming that the flimsy one tenth point improvement this year in the overall average means that public schools are improving. I hope that is true, but I would first like to see a breakdown showing separate averages for public and private schools.
I participated in a meeting of the High School Redesign Commission a few months ago, where the group was informed that the State Department of Education will start requiring all high school students to take the ACT and that 25% of the all important School Performance Score will be based on the ACT average score. Some of the Commission members grumbled that this would not give the high schools time to set up special ACT prep courses. But not wanting to seem to be against this latest reform, they dutifully voted to endorse the new testing scheme. So it looks like many more of our teachers will be singing the Test Teacher Song. (Click on the link and you'll see what I mean.)
It used to be that high schools in addition to producing literate and well rounded citizens would prepare students for either vocational/career work or for entry into 4 year colleges. Now the goal has been carefully reshaped by our non-educator reformers so that schools are supposed to produce adults who are College and Career ready. The reformers are telling us that if we achieve the goal of college prep, we will also automatically be preparing students for careers that require less than a 4 year college degree. The problem is there are only so many hours in the school day. That's why many school systems have been forced to sacrifice many of their vocational-technical programs to allow more time for the Core 4 curriculum.
No other industrialized country attempts to prepare all its students for college. They know that the modern work force needs skilled and vocational workers just as much as it needs college educated workers. Why do our school reformers insist on doing exactly the opposite of what the most successful countries are doing?
It is ironic that business leaders have been telling the Louisiana Workforce Commission that what they need are skilled workers in many jobs that do not require a college degree. That's why one element of the Jindal reform legislation will now allow high school students to leave their home campus and attend vocational courses by private providers. The problem is most of these kids are not able to go in two directions at one time.
I believe that forcing students who are not suited to, or have no interest in college prep to take such courses is very bad policy. It is discouraging and damaging to the students and guarantees that our public schools will continue to look like failures. For educators it's more and more testing with diminishing returns.