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Higher Standards Spell Success for Louisiana HBCUs

Higher Standards Spell Success for Louisiana HBCUs
Schools boast highest passage rates in state on national teacher exam
By Scott Dyer


Just a year after three of Louisiana’s historically Black universities were placed on probation for low passage rates on the national teacher certification exam, they were told that they have now some of the highest passage rates in the state.

Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner E. Joseph Savoie noted that the regents had given Southern University at Baton Rouge, Southern University at New Orleans and Grambling State University two years to improve their scores on the national teacher exam, or risk the possible loss of the teacher education programs.

“They’ve all responded beautifully — in fact, their improvement has been phenomenal,” Savoie says.

So phenomenal, in fact, that their latest passage rate is now higher than many predominantly White universities in Louisiana, including Louisiana State University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and Southeastern Louisiana University.

At Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus, 97 percent of the 65 students who graduated from the education program passed the national teacher certification exam, known as Praxis, during the 2001-2002 school year.

That’s a dramatic improvement from the previous year, when only 46 percent of the 104 graduating education majors passed the exam.

Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) and Grambling State found themselves in hot water last year because they both had a 60 percent passage rate.

Under the regents’ new accountability program, an education program is required to have at least an 80 percent passage rate on the Praxis exam, or risk the loss of that program.

“If they didn’t improve in two years, we (the regents) were going to pull their degree programs and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was going to pull their certification so they couldn’t prepare teachers,” Savoie says.

While Southern’s Baton Rouge campus had a 97 percent passage rate, SUNO had a 98 percent passage rate with 43 of 44 Praxis exam takers passing it. And at Grambling, all 21 Praxis exam takers passed the test for a 100 percent passage rate.

“We gave them two years to fix it, but the truth is that they’ve already fixed it,” Savoie says.

Officially, the three schools will still be considered in “transitional” status until the two-year probationary period ends next year. But all three scored high enough to earn an “A” or “A-plus” under the regents’ rating system.

The secret to the success of all three schools is a tough new policy that requires education majors to pass the Praxis exam in order to graduate.

Dr. Edward R. Jackson, the chancellor at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus, noted that the percentage of Praxis passers at his school was slightly less than 100 percent because several students were already in the education program when the policy change was made. Those students threatened legal action unless they were allowed to graduate under the old rules.

“Now that the pipeline has been cleaned up, we should be at 100 percent,” Jackson says.

Jackson says before the passage of the Praxis was required, many students didn’t take it seriously, but that’s changed now.

Grambling also moved to make successful passage of the Praxis a requirement for graduation. As a result, its passage rate climbed to 100 percent when all 21 of the education grads passed the test.

Grambling’s acting president Dr. Neari F. Warner said the improvement was accomplished with increased standards, and resulted in only a very slight drop in the number of teacher-education graduates.

“We put that requirement in place, and it worked. Grambling State University was founded as a teacher education college, and we want that legacy to continue because we need more African American teachers in our state,” Warner says.

Warner said Grambling has launched a major recruiting program to attract students who want to major in education.

“We just had a teacher’s fair last weekend for prospective students, and we have a teacher cadet program where we are trying to encourage high-school students to go into teacher education,” Warner says.

At SUNO, Chancellor Press Robinson said requiring the Praxis for graduation was a controversial move.

Some had predicted that it would work to reduce the number of Black teachers, but that isn’t happening, Robinson says.

“Initially, there was a slight decrease, but those numbers are beginning to go back up —in the long run, I think it will help us because the teachers who graduate from our program will be proud of having one of the best passage rates in the state,” Robinson says.

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