Three years after controversial high-stakes tests ended for fourth- and eighth-graders, Louisiana's top school board is about to take another look at promotion policies for those students.
The issue, which sparked discussion during Thursday's meeting of the Superintendents' Advisory Council, will be one of the topics when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets Aug. 15-16.
One key feature of any revised policy is expected to be expanded reliance on transitional ninth grade, which was created after educators concluded that requiring eighth-graders who failed the high-stakes test to repeat the grade was a flawed policy. Nearly 40 percent of those students never made it to high school, according to the state Department of Education.
Under the policy that ended in 2014, fourth- and eighth-graders who failed to pass the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or LEAP, had to repeat the grade.
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The rule was aimed in part at improving student achievement by ending years of social promotion – passing students to the fifth- and ninth-grades despite serious academic deficiencies.
Critics said it was a mistake to link promotions to one test, and efforts to roll back the rules sparked controversy for years.
But forcing eighth-graders to repeat the grade was seen as less than successful.
That rule "was not always producing the outcomes for struggling students, particularly overage students who had been retained multiple times, that we hoped to see," Erin Bendily, assistant state superintendent of education, said in an email Friday.
The proposal that department officials present to BESE will increase the ability of local educators to place students in transitional ninth grade, local superintendents were told Thursday.
Those students have to do remedial work in math or English, whichever they failed, and then move to a high school campus for other classroom assistance.
After they finish the transitional ninth grade they advance to the traditional ninth grade on a five-year graduation timeline or, in some cases, to the 10th grade.
"We needed to give districts the ability to physically place those older students on a high school campus with their peers, receive remediation to address their deficiencies and see a path forward to graduation, postsecondary education and the workforce," Bendily said.
Ninth grade is a key dropout point for struggling students.
Louisiana also has a large number of overage ninth-graders.
High-stakes tests were long considered a symbol of Louisiana's latest drive, starting in 1999, for improved student achievement in public schools.
They were shelved because of the move to more rigorous courses and exams, including revamped LEAP exams for students in grades three through eight that allow for comparisons with students in other states.
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State law requires promotion policies for fourth- and eighth-graders.
Those rules were suspended for the past three years during the switch to Common Core, and then the revised Common Core.
The plan that BESE reviews next month is also expected to give local educators flexibility on fourth-grade promotion rules.
Unlike eighth-graders, requiring those students who fail LEAP to repeat the grade is generally viewed as beneficial.
If not seen that way, local officials can review a wide range of data on how students are faring, and allow them to move to the fifth grade.
Bendily said the revised policy would need to ensure that students promoted despite failing LEAP would get the academic assistance they need.