Schools where students skipped Common Core tests earlier this year would avoid penalties under a plan endorsed Thursday by a key panel of local superintendents.

The issue has simmered for months, with some superintendents saying their districts could be unfairly penalized because students skipped taking the exam.

But the proposal is aimed at striking a balance between the need to measure student progress without damaging school districts unfairly.

“The principle we have settled on is stability,” said state Superintendent of Education John White, who unveiled the plan.

The proposal was backed by the influential Superintendents’ Advisory Council, which advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

BESE is set to tackle the issue next month.

About 5,000 students skipped the tests earlier this year amid complaints that it was part of a heavy-handed push by the federal government.

Backers say the revamped standards in reading, writing and math will better prepare students for college and careers.

Under White’s proposal, the state will use the results of the 2013-14 Louisiana Educational Assessment Program — the standardized tests known as LEAP — for most students who missed the exams when annual school letter grades are calculated.

For schools where more than 10 percent of students missed the exams — 34 of about 1,100 statewide — letter grades for 2013-14 will remain unchanged for 2014-15.

Without the special policy, students who skipped the tests would get zeroes, which some superintendents said could drive down their grades by a letter or more.

White emphasized the policy, if approved by BESE, will only be in effect for one year.

“You are talking about a small number of schools,” White told the council.

About 320,000 students in grades three through eight took the tests.

Typically 99 percent of eligible students do so.

In this case the rate was 98.2 percent, according to the state Department of Education.

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community Schools District, had a significant number of students who skipped the assessments.

“I am thinking this is the fairest way to level the playing field across the state,” Faulk said of the policy proposal.

Karl Bruchhaus, superintendent of the Calcasieu Parish School District, agreed.

Schools in that district accounted for more than one third of students statewide who skipped the assessments, according to earlier state estimates.

“I think the policy on the opt outs is about as good as we can expect under the circumstances,” Bruchhaus said.

The state is scheduled to issue letter grades for elementary and middle schools next month.

How to handle cases where students skipped the tests added controversy to an already highly-charged topic earlier this year.

BESE in March rejected a bid to let students skip the exams without schools being penalized.

The vote followed action by 14 school districts statewide that passed resolutions asking for BESE to shelve any penalty plans.

BESE at the time directed White to come up with a policy later this year.

Jim Garvey, one of three BESE members who attended the three-hour meeting, said it is too soon to tell whether the panel will endorse White’s proposal.

“I need to go back and study it some more because a lot of what was presented wasn’t given out ahead of time,” said Garvey, who is vice-president of BESE and was re-elected to a third term on Oct. 24.

Garvey, who lives in Metairie, said he was pleased that many superintendents said they backed the plan.

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