No matter how tough the sledding might appear ahead, Louisiana has simply no choice but to keep trying to provide high-quality public education for its children. The quality part of that is critical.
That is why we hope that tougher academic standards and rigorous assessments will be used to determine the grades that schools and systems receive, just as the same level of rigor is applied to students in the classroom.
The state’s Accountability Commission — educators, business leaders and others — makes recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on education policy. It’s been a key vehicle for reforms in recent years, but it also is a sounding board for the superintendents of local school systems, which sometimes feel buffeted by the winds of change.
Letter grades for schools provoke controversy, just as any measurement does. The grades requirement breezed through the Legislature in 2010 at the urging of Gov. Bobby Jindal. The grades represented an effort to make more understandable the complex set of numbers that hold schools accountable, but the standards themselves are subject to change. A shift to a tougher standard, as is now before the Accountability Commission, can result in a sharp drop in schools’ letter grades.
A move toward tougher academic requirements for the grades is underway, but it’s going to be criticized. Under current rules, schools can earn an A rating from the state if students average the third-highest of five academic levels — basic. Under the change, schools would be able to land the top letter grade only if students average the fourth of five learning levels — mastery.
We agree with the state Department of Education and Superintendent John White that Louisiana ought to be pushing for higher standards. The world is not becoming less complex, and the job market ahead for today’s students mandates skills in reading, writing and arithmetic — not to mention critical thinking and understanding. “Basic” in the annual tests is just that, very basic.
The proposed changes are not intended to be a guillotine but are more akin to a bunny slope in skiing. The goal is to reach the mastery standard by 2025.
That ought not be an unachievable goal. Further, given the pace of change in today’s workplaces, we wonder if it’s fast enough to provide students with the skills they need to compete. The “basic” level in testing is an “academic expectation that does not correspond to our job need,” the state department reported to the commission.
Still, any change to letter grades is a sensitive issue. Today’s A-level schools — about 1 in 5 — are proud of that distinction, even in a state that lags in national assessments of educational attainment. They don’t want to lose it, but the department’s suggestion of a long lead time would give schools and local systems, or charter school boards, the years to adjust their sights higher.
In a more challenging world, the students of Louisiana deserve the preparation that will allow them to live fulfilling lives. That should be the goal on the mind of the Accountability Commission and BESE in this new policy debate.