By a 7-4 vote, the state’s top education board has pushed ahead with a reasonable plan that allows parents in Louisiana to compare their children’s performance on state tests with those in 10 other states and the District of Columbia.
Although it is somewhat technical, the vote on the issue was to adopt a grading scale that is the same as the other states — sorting student scores into categories like basic, approaching basic or mastery, as in the old LEAP tests. Sounds simple enough, but that there was pushback against this basic element of the new Common Core-aligned tests does not bode well for the future.
The new PARCC tests implement the higher Common Core standards for academic achievement. If the BESE minority in this vote had prevailed, it would have been difficult to compare achievement levels between groups of students in each state. We think parents and teachers ought to know if Louisiana students are meeting the same academic level as those in other states and D.C.
After all, that comparability across state lines was one of the goals of the state-led Common Core movement. When paired with Louisiana’s accountability program, the PARCC test is aligned to the new standards and gives parents vital information: Is my student’s A-rated school really an A-rated school compared with those in other states?
At best, the four BESE members were harassing the existing leadership of the board and the Department of Education, which has long pushed for stronger academic standards and scoring schools according to performance. The measures voted upon Tuesday were part of a schedule approved months ago.
We believe the majority was right and commend them for sticking to the long-established plans for higher academic standards.
But what meddling with the grading scale also suggests is that there is a constituency in today’s public education establishment that doesn’t like testing in general and accountability in particular, that wants to live in a fantasy of Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average. Since 1999, the state has pushed for accountability for local school systems — and independent charter schools, some of whom have been put out of business for poor academic performance.
That broad program of accountability is dependent on not only high academic standards but a clear testing bar that gives parents and taxpayers insight into what they are getting for the public education dollar. That accountability is the spur toward giving every child a better education, rather than simply passing them on to the next grade whether they’ve demonstrated higher skill levels or not.
Whatever the agitation that has occurred over Common Core standards — and Louisiana was among the leaders in developing them — the fundamental issue is accountability. Every skirmish over grading scales is part of a larger campaign to retard progress.
By making an issue of the grading scale, the four in the minority show that the Oct. 24 elections to eight BESE seats are vital decisions, not just down-ballot races that generally might draw little voter interest.