The Louisiana Department of Education recently released public school students’ Louisiana Assessment of Educational Progress (LEAP) scores for the 2021-2022 school year. The tests measure student learning in English language arts (ELA), math, science, and social studies. Scores are reported in five achievement levels, ranging from Unsatisfactory (Level 1) to Advanced (Level 5). Mastery (Level 4) is considered proficient, indicating that students are performing on grade level.

Students scored the highest proficiency rates in the following school systems:

Only half of students are on grade level in the top-performing government-run school systems in our state. The district with the lowest percentage of students performing on grade level is East Carroll Parish School System with just five percent. Twenty-nine school systems (out of 70 total, including the state’s Recovery School District) have fewer than one-fourth of students scoring at proficiency.

This year’s results show improvement over the prior year in every subject, but Louisiana remains far from being fully recovered from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic began and shuttered schools, 58 percent of students in the top performing school system were proficient, compared to seven percent in the lowest performing district. The number of school systems with single-digit proficiency rates has increased from one in 2019 to six in 2022. The bottom line is that critical progress has been lost, and school leaders are still struggling to make it up.

*2019 does not include high school biology LEAP test

**Schools closed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic

A very small number of school systems in the state have recovered back to or surpassed their pre-pandemic performance.

2021-2022 was a critical year for recovery in student achievement. Eighty percent of school systems improved their Mastery rate from 2021 to 2022, despite some experiencing continued COVID-19-related interruptions and suffering significant damage from Hurricane Ida. In fact, the following school districts increased student achievement even though they missed 15 or more days (at least 3 weeks) of school due to the storm:

However, 17 school districts were not able to achieve any growth from 2021 to 2022 or even declined in grades 3-8 and/or high school.

Perhaps the most concerning data point in the entire release is the lack of growth in third-grade ELA scores for the second year in a row since the pandemic began:

Two districts stand at pre-pandemic performance levels in third grade ELA, while eight have achieved growth:

The remaining 58 districts posted declines in third-grade ELA scores, including 19 with double-digit drops:

Third graders in 2022 had a full year of kindergarten (2018-2019) and had their last three months of first grade (2019-2020) interrupted when schools closed due to COVID-19. Many experienced a chaotic second grade (2020-2021) as schools struggled to return to in-person learning.

The state has recognized a crisis when it comes to early literacy, given the low numbers of kids reading on grade level by the end of the third grade. State-mandated literacy screeners show that only 49.2 percent of kids in grades K-3 are reading on grade level, a number that dropped from 51.5 percent in 2019. A statewide effort has been underway to address it, consisting of teacher training and student tutoring.

Prior to the pandemic, Louisiana had realized multiple years of steady growth, inching closer to student achievement goals set by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education for schools to reach by 2025. Louisiana ranks low overall on student achievement relative to other states, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), despite spending more per student than many states. (Learn more by visiting our K-12 Education Dashboard.)

The federal government provided $4 billion in extra funding to Louisiana school systems in 2020 and 2021 to address student learning loss and other challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Less than half of those funds have been spent. The state Department of Education has released guidance and approved school system recovery plans, and it is urging school leaders to spend the money to address students’ biggest needs as quickly as possible.

If any doubt that significant progress is possible, take a look at these schools that enroll at least 85 percent low-income students and achieved impressive growth last year:

Two of these schools, JCFA and Thrive Academy, focus on helping students overcome enormous challenges. Many students are multiple grade levels behind, and the schools enroll much higher percentages of students who are parents, homeless, have been in the juvenile justice system, and/or previously dropped out of school. They’re shining examples of what’s possible when school leaders create a culture of high expectations and approach their work with intentionality every day.

Louisiana can still write an impressive comeback story. Many students and educators are back in school now, hard at work. We at the Pelican Institute are looking forward to visiting some of these high-performing schools soon and sharing their stories. We hope school leaders will do the same, learn from one another, and replicate what’s working. Louisiana’s kids can do amazing things with the right support. We’ll be cheering them and their teachers on and hope to celebrate their accomplishments this time next year.