BATON ROUGE, La. — Louisiana is toughening its rating system for public schools, a move that has divided the education community amid worries that it will dramatically increase the number of schools deemed failing.
Under the new rating system, the number of F-rated public schools is expected to shoot up 57 percent next year, The Advocate reported . Those with A ratings are expected to drop 38 percent.
The new rating system won approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, through an 8-3 vote last week after a lengthy debate.
Backers praised the revamped measuring stick, which is part of Louisiana’s push to make school rankings line up more closely with the grading in other states.
“I think it is a reasonable compromise,” said Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry.
But the changes were opposed by Gov. John Bel Edwards and organizations representing school superintendents, local school boards and public school principals. The critics contend the public will be jolted when top-rated schools suddenly drop a letter grade or more.
Efforts to soften the impact of the new rules failed on 4-7 votes, with all three Edwards appointees to the education board siding with the push for a milder approach.
Donald Songy, education adviser for the governor, urged BESE to “give every consideration” to a competing plan from state superintendents that would have caused a smaller drop in the number of A-rated schools and a smaller increase in schools with F ratings.
Nieland called the superintendents’ plan inflated, suggesting it would make students appear to be performing better than they are.
Debbie Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, backed the superintendents’ proposal. She said if the state raises the achievement bar too quickly, educators will be “stressed and overwhelmed.”
BESE member Tony Davis, the Natchitoches member who made the motion for the plan that was approved, said an initial dip in school grades is inevitable when a rating system is toughened. He said while the new rules will cause a “perception” issue for education officials, the state shouldn’t sacrifice the increased rigor.
The changes will apply to the current school year, not the state-issued letter grades for the 2016-17 school year to be unveiled in November.
The toughened grading system stems partly from the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The 2015 law requires states to spell out how they’ll address school ratings, student report cards and other ways to spot and help troubled schools. Louisiana’s proposal, one of the first approved by federal officials, included a revamped rating system.
Louisiana uses five achievement levels in testing students on English, math, science and social studies: advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.
The state’s goal by 2025 is to require students to average mastery in order for the school to earn an A rating, up from the more modest standard of basic used for years. The plan approved by BESE changes the number of points schools receive based on the ratings of their students.
Jessica Baghian, an assistant state superintendent for the Department of Education, said the new system will ensure that an A in Louisiana “holds water” with the quality of As in other states.
Voting for the changes were BESE members Holly Boffy, Tony Davis, Jim Garvey, Sandy Holloway, Kira Orange Jones, Jada Lewis, Gary Jones and Doris Voitier, an Edwards appointee. Voting against the changes were Kathy Edmonston, Thomas Roque and Lurie Thomason.