CUNNINGHAM: BESE Bows To Reality Amid School Closures

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) is now taking steps to relieve students and teachers of some of their biggest concerns amid the COVID-19 school shutdown. The move, which would eliminate school performance scores for the 2019-2020 academic year and ask the federal Department of Education to waive the state assessment requirement for the year, allows teachers to come back and teach without the pressure of immediately prepping kids for a high stakes state test.

In a letter to Governor John Bel Edwards, the board calls this an “unprecedented” time and implies through its actions that any student, teacher, and school scores would be largely invalid due to the significant time off this academic year.

“[W]e must afford our educators the most flexibility in the important work they do,” the letter from BESE states. “With that in mind, we have joined together to support efforts to afford them the most flexibility moving forward.”

The actions BESE can and have taken directly are as follows:

  • School performance scores, district performance scores, and early childhood performance profiles for the 2019-2020 academic year will not be produced due to closures of 18+ days, per BESE’s long-standing policy to address severe disaster impacts on schools, centers and students.
  • Teacher evaluations can be completed with no further action, other than recording in the appropriate data system.
  • Diploma requirements for graduating seniors, including requirements for minimum instructional minutes for course credit, industry-based credentials, and financial aid applications, have been waived.

The board also applied for the waiver from state assessments as mandated but the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Along with this, the board is asking Edwards to waive, through executive order, certain education requirements currently required by Louisiana law. These requirements include:

  • RS 17:10.1 — School and district accountability systems and the inclusion of value-added data in educator evaluations
  • RS 17:24.4 — LEAP statewide testing and pupil progression
  • RS 17:154.3 — Minimum number of days a classroom teacher must work in a school year
  • RS 17:391.2, et seq. — Public school accountability and assessments
  • RS 17:3881, et seq. — Teacher Performance Evaluation, teacher credentials based upon value added data
  • RS 17:3901, et seq. — Teacher evaluation, 50% of evaluation based on value-added data derived from student assessments
  • RS 17:3997(D) — Charter school teacher evaluations based upon value-added data derived from student assessments.
  • RS 17:4023 — Required student assessments for non-public schools participating in the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence program
  • RS 17:221 — Compulsory attendance law

In waiving these requirements, Edwards would be granting a major reprieve to teachers, many of whom will not even be able to teach their students online due to limited student access at home. Going a month without instruction and returning to school with mere weeks before a test and no time to cover what needs to be covered, many educators throughout the state have expressed concern that they would be facing Herculean task.

As a result, and data provided by these tests would be invalid, and would throw off any measure of performance (improvement or otherwise) the state could produce. However, the call from BESE makes it clear that teachers and students will not be measured according to targets that are impossible to reach in the current situation.

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