Will Louisiana change the way it grades school performance? Education board plots new path

William Taylor Potter
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may look at delaying any major changes to its school accountability system until the end of 2023 so a third-party group can make recommendations.

The board’s academic goals and instructional improvement committee decided to defer a potential change to the system and asked the Louisiana Department of Education to contract a third party to review and make recommendations by December 2023.

The board will consider the plan during its meeting on Thursday.

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Louisiana has been embroiled in hot debate about its accountability model, with public school teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards nearly universally pushing back against sweeping changes proposed in 2022. The board ultimately voted down the controversial changes, but it has continued to engage in discussions about changing the way the state grades its schools and districts.

The committee looked at one smaller change during its December meeting which would prevent schools that earned an A score in growth from receiving an overall F grade. There was pushback from board members in December against making incremental changes, but the committee was poised to look at the issue again Tuesday.

According to the committee’s agenda, six schools had an A in growth and an F overall for the 2021-2022 school year. The schools were Cherokee Park Elementary School in Caddo Parish, Ferriday Lower Elementary School and Ferriday Upper Elementary School in Concordia Parish, Rayville Elementary School in Richland Parish, Lessie Moore Elementary School in Rapides Parish, and St. Landry Charter School in St. Landry Parish.

Ronnie Morris, one of the board members who pushed for the change in December, proposed the idea that the department commission a third party to study the state’s system with a December deadline for the findings.

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“My personal preference is that we don’t put a Band-Aid on it, and that we really work to find the root cause of the problem,” Morris said. 

Cade Brumley, the state’s superintendent of education, said he had not reviewed Morris’ plan prior to the committee’s meeting, but he said he would assume the department had the resources to contract with a third party to commission the review.

Brumley said the department looked at a similar plan in December 2021 when beginning the process of making the changes to the accountability system.

Board member Kira Orange-Jones said the question was ultimately whether the board actually wanted to make changes to its accountability framework.

“If the answer is yes, then perhaps this path would be a useful path to gather more information,” Orange-Jones said. “If the answer is truly no, then this just becomes a futile exercise that frankly takes up taxpayer time, energy, resources.”

Morris argued that even if the board does not end up changing its accountability system based on the third party’s recommendations, it still provides the board — as well as future members — with more information it can use in decisions.

“At least we’re setting the table for the next board to take appropriate action, and we’re not delaying something that they would have to start a year from now,” Morris said.

The discussions on the accountability system dominated several BESE meetings in 2022. The board considered sweeping changes to the school performance score formula that would put a greater emphasis on dual enrollment courses, advanced placement classes and career readiness. But the changes met heavy – and nearly universal – pushback from public school teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards.

The changes ultimately were voted down in November.