SADOW: Terrible ACT Results Another Wake-Up Call To BESE

Louisiana graduating high school students’ miserable performance on the ACT college readiness test not only throws a crimp into the state’s higher education master plan, it also screams even more loudly to reform a school accountability picture that at present deceives.

Last week, the ACT organization released last year’s results. As does five other states, Louisiana requires all high school students to take the exam, while another eight states have regulations that lead to over 90 percent of such students to do the same. Theoretically, the fewer students that take it, the higher the average of those who do, because lower achievers are disproportionately disinterested in pursuing post-secondary education and don’t sit for the test.

The state finished fifth-worst overall, the same within the cohort of 14 of 90 percent-plus takers. This was the fifth yearly decline in a row, so, even if the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic likely had a negative impact exogenous to typical educating, the erosion began well before that and demonstrates a genuine trend, although that fall has been seen at the national level as well. Louisiana’s 18.1 composite score was 1.7 below the national average and 0.55 below its cohort.

Naturally, the special interests representing Louisiana schools don’t want to hear that they have no clothes on. The Louisiana School Boards Association issued a statement trying to deflect criticism by alleging the disinterested portion of test-takers dragged down the state’s score, which obviously fails to address the facts that it still ranked in the bottom portion of its similar cohort and of the continued decline.

It also didn’t identify the strong case the ACT results presented for a reform Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley has demanded which is currently on hold in large part because of LSBA resistance. That would rebalance the accountability scoring of high schools, where the current formula rates 70 percent in the highest two categories despite the fact that only 37 percent of high school students land in the upper two categories of performance that notes “proficiency” or better.

The LSBA is scared to death of implementing a formula more reflective of reality that almost certainly will reduce the ranking of many schools. Doing so not only would likely stoke parent activism for things like school choice and Educational Savings Accounts, but also probably would entice more families to pursue distance, private, or home schooling that ultimately removes dollars, thus power, from the hands of local elected officials, bureaucrats, and special interests such as unions.

Ironically, that opposition puts them at loggerheads with their usual allies, higher education. Louisiana’s colleges, after all, have a master plan that envisions through the end of the decade dramatically higher completion of degrees and credentials. Declining performance by high school graduates, signaling reduced capability to pursue successfully these college laurels, threatens increased inability to meet the plan goals without a mass influx of better-prepared out-of-state students. From where those might come would be a further question.

As a result, Louisiana higher education, through its Board of Regents, should support Brumley’s reforms currently suppressed by a majority on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education – which has punted twice on the matter, as recently as last week. Monty Sullivan, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, already has voiced his support. For its part, the LSBA continues a campaign of distraction by treating the mismatch between actual demonstrated learning, according both to the ACT and the state’s own student performance scores, and school performance scores as if it doesn’t exist. That’s an attitude which negligently ignores reality and ultimately serves to harm students.

Brumley points out how dozens of meetings have been held over months taking up hundreds of hours engaging a comprehensive set of stakeholders to come up with the new rubric. BESE president for this year Republican James Garvey has deplored the delay, and called a special meeting to take up the matter with slight modifications on Nov. 10. In the past two meetings, Republican Mike Melerine and Democrat Kira Orange Jones have indicated frustration at delay as well. The rest of BESE needs to get with them in putting the needs of children ahead of the needs of a certain subset of adults.

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