Letter: EBR gaming accountability

Over the last six months, The Advocate has reported on the development of Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s “family of schools” plan for East Baton Rouge Parish schools. With 27 F-rated schools in the parish, the School Board needs a real plan for change. Like many, I reserved judgment on the superintendent’s plan, hoping that it would help the thousands of Baton Rouge children who attend schools experiencing great struggles.

The superintendent stated that the plan, which radically changes the grade levels and admissions standards of many district schools, would offer more options to families, especially the most disadvantaged.

I was, therefore, disappointed to learn that the plan in fact covers up the district’s struggles by moving higher-performing students into F-rated schools, making the schools’ ratings look better, but not solving real challenges for thousands of kids.

In one well-documented case, 100 gifted students would be relocated from Glen Oaks Park Elementary, a C-rated school, to Merrydale Elementary, an F-rated school, to improve test scores and avoid state intervention at the long-struggling Merrydale.

While details of the plan have been sparse, one has to suspect that similar proposals in F-rated schools also aim to cover up reality by moving out current students and moving in students more likely to score well:

Mayfair Middle School, which received an “F” rating, would be converted to an elite “laboratory school,” with admissions criteria for students. Current students would be forced out.

Delmont Elementary, rated “F,” would now enroll prekindergarten students only and would thus no longer receive a letter grade rating. Every current student would be forced elsewhere.

The list goes on. In each case, friends would be separated. Favorite teachers would be missed.

The plan makes a mockery of the promise of public schools: a quality education, for every child, above all else.

Far from that, this plan is about gaming the letter-grade accountability system to make struggling schools look successful. Doing this would preserve the School Board’s control over school buildings, avoiding state intervention in long-struggling schools. And doing that preserves jobs and preserves money.

This plan puts those things above the rights of children, plain and simple.

The Legislature should take heed of this story as it considers bills that weaken the state’s accountability system. If anything, the system should be strengthened.

I will advocate that BESE and the Department of Education create policies to ensure that this kind of gaming never happens again in our state.

And I would urge the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board to reconsider, to do the right thing and to end this cover up.

Chas Roemer

president, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Baton Rouge