SADOW: New Standards Boost Louisiana Education Accountability

After years of tolerating a somewhat misleading evaluation system of individual schools and their districts, starting in academic year 2025 Louisiana will enjoy an improved version that provides better information for families and policy-makers.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education today promulgated new rules to determine accountability, which didn’t happen overnight. An attempt failed two years ago, made from a growing recognition that the scoring system under use aligned poorly with actual student proficiency, as measured by testing, as they progressed and received diplomas which had the effect of making some schools and districts appear to be doing a better job than they actually were.

This attempt replaces a more complicated computational exercise, and reverses emphasis on proficiency, or knowledge and skill gained, and growth, or how much students improve in achievement. Through the eighth grade, the growth factor is increased at the expense of proficiency.

However, what drew complaints from elected local school board members and educrats is for high school scoring, which experienced the most distortive scoring. For example, the grading system of A-B-C-D-F last year placed about two-thirds of all high schools in the top two categories, while only about a fifth of scorers on mathematics meet college-ready standards.

For high schools, the readiness component that has been a mix of measures, most prominently graduation rate, which dominated the final computation, while proficiency didn’t count for much. That too has seen reversal with end-of-course testing in basic areas – algebra, biology, geometry, English, and U.S. history – now composing the lion’s share score determination. As these are taken typically earlier in a high school student’s career, nationally-normed exams usually taken later capture the readiness component, but making up a much smaller share.

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The critics won a small victory when Republican Gov. Jeff Landry ill-advisedly signed (against the will of his appointees to BESE) into law a bill that made the required taking of the ACT by all high school students optional. This will allow districts to steer students into taking less-demanding instruments that could serve to inflate artificially high school and district scoring and discourage rigor among those students who now can opt out of taking the ACT. In response, a last-minute change to the rule will allow scores from non-ACT-taking students to count (and adds another test, for armed services induction).

Still, for the most part the new system prevents gamesmanship by local education agencies and the elected officials running them in trying to sugarcoat their performances. One other change could offer them some succor: rather than continue the new A-F scoring system based upon absolute grounds, it is made relative – or to use the profession’s parlance, “graded on a curve” – where 10 percent receive an A, 20 percent a B, 40 percent a C, 20 percent a D, and only 10 percent will be regarded as failing. Using 2023 data, that means only seven districts scored even 49 out of 100 points. Then again, compared to 2023 scoring, about the same proportion of schools will receive an ’A,’ while none received an ‘F’ and seven will under the new system, a state of affairs that will agitate the current lowest-scoring districts.

All in all, the new rules fix a nagging problem by providing a more realistic structure by which to hold education agencies accountable and will encourage improved student achievement. As Louisiana education slowly but surely has improved, BESE acted correctly to keep that momentum going.

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