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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley.

Amid heavy opposition from local superintendents, Louisiana's top school board Tuesday voted to delay action on a plan to toughen how high schools are rated until at least October.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley and others have said for months that major changes are needed in high school evaluations, especially since 70% are rated A or B despite signs those grades are wildly inflated.

But superintendents and an array of school groups said the proposal needs more work, in part because of worries if the new rules take effect high school  letter grades would plummet.

Jim Garvey, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, made the motion to delay action on the planned overhaul and said "lots of complicated issues and data " have been rolled out in recent weeks.

BESE approved the motion without objection.

In a win for Brumley, the board did endorse establishment of Louisiana's first accountability system for students in kindergarten, first and second grades.

The current setup measure academic performance for students in grades 3-12.

The K-2 system, which Brumley has touted for more than a year, is largely aimed at focusing attention on reading problems that plague the state's youngest learners.

Whether to overhaul how high schools are graded, like lots of volatile topics, triggered a split between traditional public school groups and those that favor sweeping changes.

The overhaul was criticized by the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, Louisiana School Boards Association, Louisiana Federation of Teachers and Louisiana Association of Educators.

Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said the changes would have a negative impact on students.

"This is a major discussion and one that shouldn't be made with minimal input," Pope told BESE.

Under the plan, students would have to pass two college-level exams or earn 12 hours of college credit, and meet other criteria, for schools to earn an A rating.

The state would maintain its policy that students who score a 17 on the ACT, which is in the 35th percentile on the college readiness exam, would generate no points for the school despite criticism by the LSBA and others.

The new rules would also toughen the criteria for how students earn points for yearly academic growth amid criticism that the current policy is too generous.

Patrick Jenkins, chairman of the Superintendents' Advisory Council, reiterated the view of his group that the overhaul needs more work.

"We are asking for true engagement," said Jenkins, who is superintendent of the St. Landry Parish school system. 

Others noted that the recommendations stemmed from a seven-month study group that includes five BESE members, and numerous public hearings.

Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, noted that the same state that faces major literacy problems somehow has 70% of its high schools rated A and B.

"It does not make sense," Roemer said.

Erin Bendily, vice-president for policy and strategy for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, said about 10,000 Louisiana high school graduates yearly need  academic remediation when they enter college.

Bendily said employers continue to complain that graduates lack needed skills.

"Something has to change," she said. "Parents and the public deserve a clear and more accurate scoring system."

The plan was also endorsed Tuesday by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Council for a Better Louisiana and Democrats for Education Reform.

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