School district grading change delayed

BATON ROUGE (AP) — House Education Committee members backed a proposal Wednesday that would require the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to delay using new methods for calculating school performance letter grades.

The new grading formula would include ACT test scores at high schools. It is set to apply to school and district performance scores to be released later this year.

But the bill by Rep. Kenny Havard, R-Jackson, would require the state to use the formula and accountability policies applied in the 2011-12 school year until the House and Senate Education committees approve any change to the grading system.

The approval was backed in a 9-6 vote and heads next to the House floor.

Supporters said postponing the new standards would give systems time to implement curriculum changes.

Opponents of the bill include state Superintendent of Education John White and BESE President Chas Roemer. They say the measure would hamper progress the state has made in student achievement and accountability efforts.

The state calculates school performance scores using a combination of standardized test scores and attendance rates. Dropout rates are taken into account for students in seventh and eighth grades, while dropout and graduation rates are factored into high school scores.

Individual schools and the public school district are then assigned a letter grade, A, B, C, D or F, based on those scores. In addition, the scores are used to determine funding and whether students are eligible for vouchers to transfer to other public schools or private schools.

Havard, who was flanked by two public school superintendents as he talked about the bill, said the measure was not designed to stymie accountability efforts, but to give schools time to adjust to the ACT requirement.

Because the ACT has not been a required test, many students who did not plan to attend college after high school have not taken college prep courses that would have prepared them for that test, supporters said.

“I just ask you to listen to the professionals who do this job every day,” Havard said.

All public school students were required to take the ACT this year and those scores were to be calculated into the school performance score. If a student scored less than an 18 on the test, the school would receive a zero, which would be averaged into the overall score. Conversely, if a student scored above 18 they received bonus points, White and Roemer said.

Havard said school officials are concerned that the new formula would cause school’s performance scores to drop, even for top performing schools that are currently rated A or B.

White told committee members that early projections of ACT-factored scores show that about 200 of the state’s 400 high schools would have lower school performance scores and that 200 others would do better.

He said BESE has made changes to the accountability system every year and that students will rise to the challenge. The new formula is not about trying to “shame” schools or educators, White said.

“Every year there’s a change to slowly raise the bar,” he said. “The good news is that we can raise the bar without dropping the bottom from educators. “

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