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Nine groups recommend Louisiana public school letter grade changes, quick submission of plan


March 27, 2017
By Will Sentell
Originally Posted on The Advocate

A plan by state education officials to revamp Louisiana's public schools should include more information on how public schools are faring, officials of nine groups said Monday.

The proposed changes were spelled out by leaders of the influential Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Urban League of Louisiana, the Louisiana Federation for Children and others.

It came two days before the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education tackles the issue, which was prompted by a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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Officials of the groups also said the proposal should be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education next  month, not in September as Gov. John Bel Edwards favors.

Under current rules, all-important public school letter grades are based mostly on how students do on key exams.

State Superintendent of Education John White has proposed changing that, with annual growth of academic performance counting for 25 percent of school performance scores, which are then converted to letter grades.

The groups back that single, school performance score, including growth.

However, they also favor allowing parents to see how schools are doing without yearly gains factored into the score. That would be done by BESE devising  a "dashboard" that displays both the growth score and the actual performance.

"We want to make sure parents can appreciate not only growth, but what is the status," said Erika McConduit, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana.

"We want them to be clear on how students are performing at a moment in time," McConduit said. "A dashboard can do that with both scores."

In addition, the grade based on actual performance, not the one that includes growth, would be used on whether students can opt out of poor performing schools, including through the use of vouchers.

How to revamp public school letter grades has sparked controversy for months.

White and others contend annual student gains have been undervalued in the past, and need to be a bigger presence in annual snapshots on how schools are doing.

Growth counts for 7 percent of scores today, but only applies to struggling public school students.

The new rules would apply yearly academic growth to all students, and make it a bigger part of the grade.

In another area, the seven groups said the state should accelerate plans to raise the bar for student performance.

Under today's system, the standard for proficiency in student performance is the third of five levels: basic.

The state is gradually raising that to the second highest of five levels – mastery – by 2025.

The groups said the tougher standards should be adopted immediately, with a phase-in that eliminates the need for any curve or hold harmless provisions.

On a third topic, officials said the state should use letter grades or other, easily identifiable measures to show how low-income students and other "subgroups'' are doing in the classroom.

Others who endorsed the changes are Democrats for Education Reform/Louisiana; Stand for Children/Louisiana; Deaf Education Alliance/Deaf Focus doing business as iLEEAD and Equity in All Places.

Also on the list are the Southern Poverty Law Center and Families Helping Families.

White favors submitting the state plan to the U.S. Department of Education next month.

Edwards said Friday he favors a five-month delay before finalizing the blueprint to allow more time for "stakeholder" input.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for LABI, said "tremendous political pressure" is about to be applied by Edwards, local superintendents and others to delay finalizing Louisiana's plan.

"I don't think politics in this sense is fair to kids," Nieland said.