The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is getting ready for a final vote next week on a plan to let students who failed state tests graduate in other ways. There is growing opposition to the plan.
The proposal in the Louisiana Register would let students who don’t meet the current requirements for graduation finish a project or portfolio that their teacher would grade. These students would get a diploma if they passed, and it would count toward their school’s accountability rating score.
To get a diploma, students have had to get between 10 and 38 percent of the possible points on state tests for about 30 years. This was done to make sure that students didn’t graduate without being able to read or do basic math.
The proposal has been met with strong opposition from the public. 16 letters from people and groups across the state have spoken out against the plan. In a letter to the board, Cade Brumley, the state superintendent, also said that the plan was “bad public policy” and asked members to “abandon the rulemaking process.”
“At its core, the proposed graduation appeals process dangerously signals to our state and nation that Louisiana’s educational system is incapable of providing – and students are unable to attain – a minimum standard of proficiency in required subjects,” he said. “We should continue the exploration and expansion of academic and support options for students, not impose a government-sanctioned excuse for mediocrity.”
Brumley also talked about some “mistakes” that were made when the proposed rule was made. These included not talking to the Accountability Council, not getting enough feedback from people who would be affected, like teachers and business leaders, and not talking to the Senate and House finance committees, which would be needed to get money for the changes.
Supporters of the plan, including state board President Holly Boffy (elected to District 7) and board member Belinda Davis (appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards), say that some students just have trouble with tests even though they understand the material. Some people have said the tests are unfair to people of color.
“There are many examples throughout the state of students with unique testing difficulties being tested repeatedly without success, despite having a strong understanding of the content,” Boffy stated this summer. “The goal of the policy … is to provide an appeals process for these students in confirming their graduation eligibility and readiness for postsecondary opportunities.”
The Pelican Institute, ExcelinEd in Action, Greater New Orleans Inc., the Business Council of New Orleans, and many other people who have spoken out against the change say it will make the state’s accountability system even less effective at helping students reach basic levels of proficiency.
Even though 70% of schools in Louisiana are rated “A” or “B,” just over a third of students in public high schools do not perform at grade level. This has led to efforts to change the system. Katharine Munal, legislative director for ExcelinEd in Action, wrote to the board, “The new appeals process would lower the bar for graduates, put them at a disadvantage, and hurt those students who need the most help.”
In a piece about the plan released this week, Erin Bendily, vice president for policy and strategy at the Pelican Institute, said, “As long as Louisiana wants to improve its schools and give its people the opportunities that come with a good education, it must stay the course.” “Workarounds and waivers won’t help our children prepare for an increasingly demanding world and it certainly won’t make for a strong Louisiana workforce and economy.”
When the board meets on Oct. 10 and 11, it’s likely to vote on the plan. In a previous vote to move forward with the policy, it was 6–5, with three members appointed by Edwards and three members elected by the people.