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Bid to revamp Louisiana school grading system stirs pushback

1 year 11 months 2 weeks ago Tuesday, June 15 2021 Jun 15, 2021 June 15, 2021 3:14 PM June 15, 2021 in News
Source: Associated Press

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A proposal by Louisiana’s education superintendent to overhaul how the state rates public schools has sparked controversy and prompted leaders of the state’s top school board to delay a debate that had been planned for Tuesday.

Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley’s plan would change the way letter grades are calculated for schools and school districts, reducing the number of D- and F-rated schools.

The Advocate reports that the idea triggered pushback from critics who said the changes would water down academic standards in a state that has long been near the bottom for student achievement.

“Any changes to mask true student achievement is a disservice to the students of Louisiana,” said Kelli Bottger, director of political strategy for the education policy group, American Federation for Children.

Amid the controversy, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education yanked the item from consideration on Tuesday’s agenda, saying it will be rescheduled at “a future date.” No specific date was provided.

Board President Sandy Holloway said in a statement that the board wanted to “allow for additional discussions about this important topic.” She cited her own questions and the received comments from advocates, stakeholders and other board members.

Under current rules, 25% of a school’s annual performance score — which helps generate the school’s letter grade — is tied to whether students meet learning targets regardless of the actual test scores and how they compare to their peers. Brumley’s proposal would increase that to 38% of the score.

Brumley said the proposal is in line with what other states do. It won support from the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and the Council for a Better Louisiana, which tracks education issues.

Critics said the change would inflate student scores, suddenly making schools and students appear to be performing better than they are.

They said Louisiana already differs from many states by giving schools points for student growth compared to peers, not just based on a student’s individual improvement.

“The growth piece needs more consensus,” Brumley told The Advocate. “I am not disputing that at all.”

However, he said the proposal stemmed from a recommendation of an education advisory panel called the Accountability Commission that wanted to have academic growth count for an even more generous 47% of school scores.

Another point in dispute is the superintendent’s plan to give schools credit for students who score 17 on the ACT college readiness exam, which gives scores of up to 36. A 17 score means students have scored better than 35% of their peers on the ACT. Under current rules, schools don’t start getting points for ACT scores until students score an 18 or better.

Brumley said the new policy is aimed at aligning scores with higher education benchmarks. He noted students who score a 17 on the ACT can qualify for free tuition at community and technical colleges through the state’s TOPS Tech program.

But the conservative Pelican Institute for Public Policy asked: “Why would we move ACT standards backward to a level beneath competency while we are all working to raise the bar for student outcomes?”

Other parts of Brumley’s plan sparked little controversy, including ideas for creating the state’s first K-2 accountability system and taking steps to strengthen the high school diploma.

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