State leaders are taking the unusual step of enacting a law to soften the blow when lots of public school letter grades decline later this year.
The measure, Senate Bill 152, would require the state to issue two letter grades and two school performance scores – one reflecting the previous, more generous scoring system and the other its tougher successor.
The measure, with the blessing of state education leaders, is moving easily through the Legislature.
It is one step from final approval, and the House is set to debate the legislation on Tuesday.
The worries among lawmakers, local school superintendents and others stem from a controversial new rating system approved last year by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Public school letter grades, which have sparked controversy since they were unveiled in 2011, are at the center of a new dispute between stat…
The plan, which is part of Louisiana's bid to make its school rigor similar to other states, features a new measuring stick for how schools perform.
That in turn will have a big impact on all-important school letter grades, which are annual snapshots of classroom performance that often cause angst for educators, students and parents.
The new rules will make it harder to earn top marks.
"There has been great concern," Senate Education Committee Chairman Blade Morrish, R-Jennings and sponsor of the bill, said earlier this month.
"The testing scores, because of the new rigor, are going to be lower," Morrish said. "We are going to have an A school be a B school, etc. But there will be new rigor."
The number of F-rated public schools is expected to shoot up 57 percent next year, and those with A ratings will drop 38 percent, under a new …
Those worries have caused nervous superintendents, public school groups and others to line up behind the legislation.
"If you only give one score with the new standards, no one will know how we did," said Michael Faulk, former longtime superintendent of the Central School District and now executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
"You may have a student score at the same level they did last year but the points they earn would be less," Faulk said. "It is easier to explain."
Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary School District, backs the two-grade plan. "It is really just to be able to explain it to your community," Devillier said.
Some schools started getting the word out in January that the state's grading system is about to undergo major changes.
Faulk's group has prepared a templet for local superintendents.
It allows them to plug in information about their own districts, and show parents, business leaders and others how the rating system is changing.
The state Department of Education has worked with Morrish.
"That seems like a good idea to me," state Superintendent of Education John White said of the bill. "2018 marks a shift."
The bill would require the state to publish scores and corresponding letter grades based on the old system, the 2016-17 school year, as well as those that cover the 2017-18 year.
It would also require BESE to do the same in the future whenever there is a "significant change" in how schools are rated.
Louisiana has five achievement levels: Advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.
Louisiana's drive to meet higher standards for A-rated schools stalled during the past school year, according to state figures released Tuesday.
The previous standard was basic, which critics said was long out of step with what most states require students to learn.
The new one is mastery, a higher bar and one students will have to average for their school to earn an A rating by 2025.
Schools used to get 125 points for mastery.
Now they will get 100.
Basic used to net 100 points. Now it will generate 80 points.
The state is also ending a generous curved system in rating schools that was in effect for four years.
When public school letter grades are released on Tuesday, it will mark the end of a generous scoring system sparked mostly by the tougher acad…
Morrish's bill would be in addition to steps already taken to ease the move to tougher ratings.
Under the old system, schools had to earn at least 100 out of 150 points to get an A.
Under the new rules, they can do so with a 90.
In addition, yearly academic growth will count for 25 percent of a school's letter grade.
Under the previous system, those gains made up 7 percent of the grade and only applied to struggling students. "That cushions the effect for schools that do make progress," White said.
Jessica Baghian, assistant state superintendent for assessments and accountability, said BESE installed a "thoughtful" system. "We think it is a very reasonable transition plan," Baghian said.
Some educators say that, under the new rules, school scores will drop by an average of 15 points – more than a letter grade.
Baghian said state simulations show the fall will be an average of 9.6 points, which is offset by the new grading scale.
Debra Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said issuing two letter grades and school performance scores is a good idea.
"It will make it clearer," Schum said.