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As Louisiana State Education Superintendent John White watches, right, BESE President Gary Jones, left, asks a question as the board hears testimony on a plan to revamp public schools Wednesday March 29, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La..

ADVOCATE STAFF PHOTO BY BILL FEIG

It was an impressive lineup against higher standards in public schools: the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana School Boards Association and Louisiana Association of Principals.

Their problem? A new grading system for public-school letter grades is going to be harder to meet.

Despite those objections from school administrators, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved a new ranking system. It's the right call.

The final vote was 8-3, but two closer votes occurred in rejecting changes proposed by the school groups. Those were 7-4, with one elected BESE member (Kathy Edmonston of Gonzales) and three appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards in the minority. On the final vote, St. Bernard superintendent Doris Voitier, an Edwards appointee, joined the majority.

Donald Songy, education adviser for the governor, earlier urged BESE to "give every consideration" to the superintendents' plan, which would have meant a smaller drop in the number of A-rated schools and a smaller hike in those with "F" ratings. The governor is a longtime political ally of teacher unions and other sectors of the education establishment who helped him get elected.

What are the reasons such a high-powered lineup does not prevail? A commitment to quality education.

The root of the new system is that Louisiana schools over a period of years are expected to improve. Letter grades ought to reflect the reality of the academic results.

The new plan generated weeks of intense discussions, because it is widely expected to show that some A-rated schools are not doing so well and more schools might slip into F territory.

But the root of the matter is not the politics of superintendents and school boards, but the quality of the education that schools provide. The ratings are based on students achieving "mastery" levels instead of the old "basic," which was in fact a very basic standard academically.

The state's goal by 2025 is to require students to average "mastery" in order for the school to earn an A rating. Schools also get extra points in their performance scores for students achieving the higher "advanced" standards.

How to allocate points of students' scores to the school performance scores resulted in the weeks of wrangling before the BESE vote. We don't underestimate the challenges facing school boards, because it is more difficult to win public votes for taxes for education when a system is not getting a good report card. But the report card is not for the benefit of officials, but to provide an insight for parents and taxpayers into the quality of education.

The purpose of the accountability system is to show whether taxpayer-funded schools are making grades. The mastery standard is what is already asked of students in other states.

Louisiana must be competitive. To promote "grade inflation" at the school performance level, as the plans from Edwards and the others did, does not serve today's students.