Pelican Institute: Credibility must be restored to Louisiana school ratings

Just over one-third of Louisiana students attending public high schools perform on grade level, yet we’re told 70 percent of their schools are rated “A” or “B.” I can’t help but react as kids do today – SMH and LOL. For those who need a translation, that’s “shaking my head” and “laugh out loud.” Something is clearly off.

School rating and accountability policies exist to give parents, and the public, honest information about how well schools educate our kids. The ratings highlight which schools need improvement and intervention, and help parents determine whether another school might better serve their child’s needs. What’s valued in the accountability system, and what leads to better ratings, determine which kids’ learning needs get the most attention, which opportunities kids are given in school, and how far they’re pushed to succeed. The system would work if the policies aligned with what we know kids need to graduate prepared for the world that awaits them. But it doesn’t.

Despite efforts by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to strengthen school accountability, school letter grades continue to mask student achievement and reward mediocrity. The rating system still rewards schools for kids who aren’t on grade level and aren’t catching up. High schools get rewarded for providing kids with “career training” that doesn’t actually prepare them to get and keep a good job. They also get high marks for graduating thousands of kids on a university-prep pathway; yet only 42 percent go on to college and make it past their freshman year – and at least 10,000 require remediation.

This can’t continue.

A BESE workgroup spent the past year studying ways to finally fix these problems and get the school rating and accountability system right. It was an in-depth process that consisted of several open meetings streamed online, lots of data about student achievement, consultation with experts, and extensive stakeholder engagement. Recommendations were presented to the full BESE board in September. However, in response to the typical establishment naysayers who are determined to preserve inflated ratings, BESE deferred action and pushed the decision to its Oct. 11 meeting.

It’s time to get this right. Credibility must be restored to school ratings. BESE must honor its commitment to transparency and high expectations, and enable Louisiana’s kids and our future workforce to thrive.

Erin Bendily is vice president for policy and strategy at the Pelican Institute

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