Baton Rouge area candidates for Louisiana’s top school board disagreed Monday on the value of giving letter grades to public schools.
District 6 incumbent Chas Roemer backs the new grading system while his two opponents criticized it.
Meanwhile, three of four candidates for the District 8 seat criticized the new policy or said they have reservations about it.
The seven contenders will be on the Oct. 22 primary election ballot for spots on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE.
Early voting began Oct. 8 and continues through Saturday. Any runoffs needed will be held on Nov. 19.
BESE sets policies for an estimated 668,000 public school students statewide.
District 6 includes much of East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes as well as Livingston, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.
District 8 includes parts of East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes as well as West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, East Feliciana, St. Helena and Avoyelles parishes.
The grades, which stem from a 2010 state law, were issued last week for the first time and touted as a way to better show how schools are faring.
Forty-four percent of Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools got a “D” or an “F” on the initial reports.
Former Ascension Parish Superintendent Donald Songy, who is trying to replace Roemer, criticized the grading system.
“It needs a lot of work,” Songy said. “It is not as accurate as it needs to be.”
Songy, who lives in Prairieville, said he preferred another grading system backed by superintendents and a key education advisory panel.
That proposal would have allowed schools to move up one letter grade in their final assessment if they made certain academic improvements.
“It was well thought out,” Songy said of that plan, which BESE shelved in favor of its own.
Roemer, who helped craft the grading setup that BESE approved in December, said the issuance of grades last week set off a positive response from parents.
“For the first time we are getting a real sense of how our schools are doing,” Roemer said.
The grades are based on annual school performance scores, which are linked primarily to key tests.
But Elizabeth Meyers, who is also running for Roemer’s seat, said the state’s measuring stick “does not truly reflect the work being done in the schools.
“We are trying to do a simplistic measure of a very complex process,” said Meyers, who is a recently retired school teacher and lives in Denham Springs.
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s new grading system came under fire in the District 8 contest to replace Linda Johnson of Plaquemine, who is not seeking re-election.
Domoine Rutledge, who is general counsel for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the calculations used to arrive at a grade are flawed.
“When you drill down and look at factors that generate that letter grade, it ignores so much,” Rutledge said.
Under the state’s policy, schools that meet their annual academic growth target get a “plus” on their grade.
Rutledge, who lives in Baton Rouge, said that is not enough.
“When people see the “D,” that is all they see,” he said.
Russell Armstrong, another candidate for the District 8 seat, said the grades are a step in the right direction.
“But it may not be a perfect system,” said Armstrong, who works for the state Department of Education.
He questioned whether the current system goes far enough in spelling out school improvements.
Jim Guillory, a former local school board member who lives in Plaucheville, said he understands the logic behind the grades.
However, Guillory said he is unsure whether the grades make clear distinctions between top flight, rank-and-file and alternative schools.
Carolyn Hill, a certified social worker in Baton Rouge who is also running for the seat in District 8, could not be reached for comment.