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The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is meeting Tuesday and Wednesday.

Louisiana's top school board Tuesday voted to shelve public school letter grades this year but made it contingent on final approval from the federal government, which is expected.

The action means that grades and school performance scores, which are usually released in November, will be set aside amid classroom upheaval and falling test scores blamed on the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials of the state Department of Education had expected to have the federal waiver in hand for Tuesday's meeting.

But that did not happen even though state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said he remains confident the waiver request will win approval.

At least 45 other states have gotten federal clearance to cancel normal school rating procedures, and officials of the U.S. Department of Education even encouraged states to apply because of the pandemic.

"We fully expect what we have seen from other states, that the waiver will be approved," Brumley told BESE.

He said federal officials have not indicated when that will occur. "I wish I had more information on that but I do not," Brumley said.

Officials initially discussed delaying action on the issue entirely.

But Holly Boffy, a board member who lives in Lafayette, made a motion for the board to approve the suspension of letter grades for public schools and school districts and make it contingent on federal approval of the waiver request.

Officials of education groups have said for months that it made no sense to issue letter grades for the 2020-21 school year amid all the disruptions.

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The 2020-21 school year was marked by a combination of in-person and virtual classes, and followed a sudden halt to in-person classes at the end of the 2019-20 school year during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

Key test scores from the spring fell statewide, which meant letter grades would have taken a nosedive too.

Schools are typically given a school performance score based largely on how students fared on LEAP 2025, which tests their knowledge of math, English, science and social studies.

Those scores are then linked to letter grades in a bid to let parents and others know how schools are performing.

Critics have long called the grades simplistic and misleading.

While letter grades are a state requirement, the state has to win approval to cancel the issuance of school performance scores.

What sparked controversy Tuesday are plans for the state to provide districts with school performance scores that Brumley emphasized would be advisory, without a letter grade and not carrying the weight they typically do.

That provision was included in the motion that won BESE approval.

Boffy and others said the move makes sense, especially for districts that showed improvements despite the pandemic.

However, that part of the plan was denounced by officials of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Michael Faulk, executive director of the superintendents' group, said even if the simulated school performance scores are supposed to be advisory they will unofficially be linked to letter grades and could be misused.

Janet Pope, executive director of the LSBA, questioned the value of the scores and said they could disrupt efforts by school districts to recover from the pandemic and multiple hurricanes.

The action Tuesday was technically taken by a committee of BESE. But nine of 11 board members were on hand and final approval is expected when the board meets Wednesday at 9 a.m.


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.