State education leaders Friday began preliminary talks on how to toughen academic standards and make it harder for public schools to earn an A rating.

“We do need to figure out what is that path,” said Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent for assessments and accountability.

Baghian made her comments to the Accountability Commission, a panel of educators, business leaders and others that makes recommendations to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The commission often plays a key role in crafting education policies, and any push to increase rigor in how all-important letter grades are handed out is sure to spark controversy.

The issue often pits advocates of higher standards who say students will rise to the occasion against educators fearful of sharp drops in letter grades when the academic bar is raised.

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.

The goal is to gradually reach that level by 2025.

The reason, state officials said, is because current state expectations are too low.

In 2011, only 28 percent of Louisiana’s workforce had a two- or four-year degree, which educators say needs to double to meet future job demands.

“In part, this gap is because our own academic expectations do not correspond with the job need,” according to documents provided by the state Department of Education.

“While mastery of content is required for true readiness, in our state, basic understanding has been accepted as sufficient performance,” according to the documents.

Baghian said school scores from the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years will provide a baseline.

Issues for the commission include what scores should constitute an A school and how annual student growth should be factored into the calculations.

The requirement that the state assign letter grades to public schools stems from a 2010 law, and most of the focus has been on troubled schools.

The initial report in 2011 showed that 44 percent of public schools were rated D and F.

Last year, 28 percent of schools were rated D and F, the same as the previous years.

Another 18 percent got an A, 28 percent a B and 26 percent a C.

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