Push to revamp public schools sparks split in education community, ‘Time to raise the bar’ | Education

State education leaders and local school superintendents are on a collision course over a proposal to overhaul the state’s accountability system for public schools.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley and others want to toughen rules for high schools to earn an A rating. They also want to authorize Louisiana’s first accountability system for students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade, and make it harder for schools to boost their grades through academic growth.

“We have been having this conversation for two years,” Brumley said, noting that a study group of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has scrutinized the issue for the past seven months. “There has been plenty of opportunity for feedback and we have accepted it.”

But the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, which represents system leaders statewide, labeled the proposed changes drastic and hasty. They have asked that a new study be launched with input from superintendents, principals, school board members and parents.

“We are not opposed to accountability,” said Mike Faulk, executive director of the group. “But superintendents and school systems have to implement all of this.”

BESE is set to debate the issue on Aug. 23, and even backers concede the plans cover a lot of ground.

“It is going to be a lot for those BESE members to digest,” said Jim Garvey, a Metairie attorney and president of the board who is generally supportive of the changes.

New rules for high schools are a big part of the proposal, driven largely by the fact that 70% of high schools enjoy a ranking of A or B from the state. Critics say those grades are wildly inflated and do not align with how high school students perform on standardized tests, including LEAP and the ACT college readiness exam.

“Seventy percent A and B schools is not a realistic situation,” Garvey said.

Under the plan, students would have to pass two college-level exams, earn 12 hours of college credit, and meet other criteria for schools to land an A rating. Students who qualify for a high school diploma without additional credits would generate no points for their school.

Superintendents contend those and other changes will lead to a wholesale drop in high school letter grades. They also argue that students in poor and rural school districts will have few opportunities to earn the college credits needed for an A rating.

In a draft report submitted to BESE last week, Faulk’s group said the state needs an accountability system grounded in appropriate outcomes “rather than reducing the number of high schools with a certain letter grade.”

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Ronnie Morris, a BESE member who attended every meeting of the five-member study group, which he served on, said the new rules will benefit students.

“LEAP scores … are less than desirable, with only 37% of students at mastery (second-highest achievement level) and only 6% earn an advanced JumpStart (career) credential,” he said. “These outcomes are not preparing Louisiana kids to compete in a global economy. Quality counts! It’s time to raise the bar.”

Another key topic — how to measure and what weight to give academic growth — is causing controversy.

Under current rules, growth counts for 25% of school performance scores, which are then linked to a letter grade. Students can earn points two ways: by meeting learning targets or by how they fare compared to their peers.

Critics contend that the system, especially the comparison component, is too generous and leads to inflated scores. Under Brumley’s plan, students who score below the 50th percentile compared to their peers would get no points for growth.

In their report, superintendents said points should be awarded for students who remain at their achievement level from the previous year.

Brumley wants high school changes to take effect for the 2025-26 school year. Superintendents want the new rules delayed until 2027 or 2028.

Garvey said school systems have shown the ability to meet the challenge when standards are raised and have new resources to offer courses for college credit.

“That is why I think it is appropriate at this time to reset the bar,” he said.

Brumley noted that he was targeted in 2021 when his proposed changes focused only on K-2 students and changing how academic growth is measured.

“One of the criticisms I heard last year was that it was too piecemeal,” he said. “We tried to make it more comprehensive, and now people say it is too comprehensive. I am just trying to thread the needle between those two things.”

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