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LFT President: Scale back harsh ESSA plan

BESE Report
October, 2017

BESE scales back harsh school accountability formula

After hearing from teachers, principals, superintendents and local school boards, the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved modest changes to the state’s Every Student Succeeds Act plan. The changes aim to ease the “sticker shock” expected to lower school letter grades when tougher standards are imposed.

LFT President Larry Carter urged the board to adopt a four-point plan proposed by school superintendents, instead of the harsh BESE plan that would see many schools drop at least one letter grade.

Educators said that the idea is not to question the direction in which school accountability is moving, but to soften the impact that radical changes would bring.

“I know that one of the most important components of a child’s success is encouraging, motivating, and inspiring confidence,” Carter said. “Several of the proposed changes in Bulletin 111 could not only mislead families about the quality of their child’s school, but serve to tell a child that even though they have excelled, their efforts are not good enough.”

For example, Carter said, a child who has achieved and maintained master of a subject, but not grown according to BESE’s formula, would receive a lower score.

“For students performing at the higher levels,” he said, “it becomes increasingly difficult to raise their scores. We need to motivate them, not penalize them for their success.”

Additionally, he said, low performance by a small subgroup could negate achievement by the rest of the school population.

Under BESE’s proposed rule, poor performance by a vulnerable groups of at-risk students, as few as 10 per school, would label the school as “Urgent Intervention Needed,” and the school would not be allowed to earn an “A” letter grade.

“It is unacceptable to invalidate an entire school’s achievement based on as few as 10 students,” Carter said. “It is misleading to parents to believe that an entire school has declined based on the scores of one subgroup.”

The board would not agree to the superintendents’ four-point plan. But on a motion by District 4 member Tony Davis, the board voted 7-3 in favor of somewhat easing the point system used to grade schools.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry opposed the compromise.

EBR gets accountability relief due to floods

Flood-ravaged East Baton Rouge Parish schools were given a break when the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a plan to freeze letter grades for most schools at the 2016 level.

Parish Superintendent Warren Drake was joined by several principals and a couple of state representatives in asking for the relief that otherwise could have seen school performance scores drop due to flood related disruptions.

State law allows districts to ask for accountability waivers if school is disrupted for at least 18 days by natural disasters. Baton Rouge schools were only closed for 16 days following last year’s floods, forcing the district to ask for special dispensation from BESE.

Superintendent Drake told the board that his schools could have easily been closed for more time, but he felt a need to get classes going again as soon as possible.

Initially, State Superintendent John White asked that schools which had a major impact from the flood be given some relief from state accountability rules.

Under the final agreement, all East Baton Rouge Schools will have the option of choosing between their 2015-16 results or those from 2016-17, whichever are higher.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry opposed the move.

Alternative education must change, report says

Alternative schools – those which enroll students with disciplinary problems – must change if they are to meet the academic, social, behavioral and emotional needs of their students, according to a report received by the Board of elementary and Secondary Education.

The report, compiled by an Alternative Education Study Group empaneled last March, reached three major conclusions:

  • There are “striking gaps in service” provided to students in the schools.
  • Too many students are sent from their home schools into alternative settings over minor to moderate infractions.
  • Alternative schools should provide individualized plans for each student, and the schools should be evaluated based on their ability to address the needs of their populations.

Superintendent of Education John White said, “Too many young people in serious need of help are not receiving the services they need in Louisiana’s alternative schools. The time to act is now.”

Under current accountability rules, At-large-member Doris Voitier said, none of the state’s alternative schools has ever earned a letter grade higher than “F.”

“If we just evaluate them by the formula we use today,” she said, “they will never succeed.”

Voitier said she has opposed plans that rebrand the schools as “alternative programs” rather than schools, and send the students’ test scores back to the home schools.

District 5 member Gary Jones applauded the report, saying that alternative schools should be “restorative, and focus less on punishment for infractions.”

The study noted that students assigned to alternative schools are five times more likely than their peers to drop out of school, that two-thirds of the students in alternative schools are male, and that African-American constitute a disproportionate number of alternative school students.

The study calls for a new model of alternative education with both short and long term services for students.

In the short term, home schools should provide better academic and social remediation for less serious issues, and long-term services “designed for students that need intensive and extensive resources or remediation to be successful.”

Click here to read the full report on alternative schools.

Summer school is outdated; better remediation needed

Superintendent of Education John White agreed with BESE members that a state law mandating summer school for students who fail to meet goals is antiquated, and said he is willing to work on a more appropriate remediation regimen.

Member-at-large Doris Voitier suggested a change in the summer school rule because student test scores are not available until after the deadline for enrolment in district schools.

“The law was enacted back when we got scores prior to the summer session,” she said.

But because summer school is mandated by state law and not by BESE policy, White told the board, it is not up to BESE to make the change.

White said he will work with the board to come up with a better definition of remediation that can include online and in-school remediation, and bring suggested legislation to the capitol.

She said it…

District 7 BESE Member Holly Boffy to District 1 Member Jim Garvey, during the discussion of ESSA rules: “Mr. Garvey, it’s not actually required that you ask any questions.”