Louisiana addresses academic achievement gap

According to “The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males,” only 39% of black male students graduated in the state of Louisiana in 2007/2008, while the graduation rate for white males was 59%. In Jefferson Parish, the graduation rate is even lower, at 28% for black male students compared to 44% for white males. A recent educational effort by Louisiana Recovery School District focused on this disparity – and one possible solution for it.

The Louisiana Recovery School District (RSD), New Orleans, is a special school district administered by the Louisiana Department of Education, designed to take underperforming schools and transform them into successful places for children to learn. In 2005, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina spurred intense action and reform in the educational system, resulting in the development of a broader definition of failing schools and the formation of more charter schools focused on closing the achievement gap. Additionally, with many residents deciding to leave New Orleans and not return, the school district found that there was a critical shortage of qualified teachers.

Grade Results, provider of live, one-to-one online instruction, worked closely with RSD to design intervention and remediation solutions. Students took a pre-test; then a Graduation Advancement Plan was developed based on the academic level of each student. Students then received instruction tailored to them, administered by an advanced-degreed online instructor. RSD gained the additional teacher support they needed, while students benefited from the differentiated instruction and extra assistance.

“The gap isn’t a problem that’s unique to Louisiana, but rather something we’re seeing all across the country. That’s why we’ve developed our Graduation Advancement Program focused on three specific areas: attaining readiness for the workplace or even college-level coursework, achieving remediation where necessary and increasing retention and graduation rates,” said Suzanne McElyea, CEO of Grade Results.

Results using this level of individualized prescriptive instruction and effective curriculum are promising. Of the students who were provided access to Grade Results’ Graduation Advancement Plan solutions in the spring of 2009, the graduation rates rose well above national averages for three RSD high schools:

Perry Walker High School – 96% graduated
Walter L. Cohen High School – 92% graduated
Sarah T. Reed High School – 100% graduated

Grade Results’ data show that early intervention can also improve academic results. The company provided math and language arts instruction to fourth graders in Louisiana in the summer of 2010. Among black male students, math scores increased 5% from the previous semester and language arts scores increased by 13%.

“We believe that we can change the face of education, one student, one school and one district at a time by focusing on intervention at multiple levels and giving students the prescriptive, individualized instruction that they need to succeed,” said David Thomas, Executive Vice President, Grade Results. "Our online delivery mechanism allows us to do this cost-effectively and our flexibility allows us to scale to meet the needs of any district.”