Mom questions ruling from voucher program
GONZALES — Andrea Colar thought she would give her son a better education by taking advantage of the state’s voucher program.
Instead, she was told that while he was approved to attend Faith Academy in Gonzales, he would be required to repeat the fourth grade — even though he’d been nearly a straight-A student and had passed the LEAP test this past school year.
Colar said she applied for the statewide voucher program, which state education officials have said is providing 5,637 vouchers to students in failing public schools to attend private and parochial schools. Her son, 10-year-old Le’Brandole Green, completed the fourth grade last year at Gonzales Primary School.
Colar said she went to Faith Academy on July 23 to register Le’Brandole at the school, bringing with her report cards that show he’s nearly a 4.0 student and LEAP score test results from last year that were above the state average. LEAP tests determine whether students at certain grade levels will be promoted to the next grade.
She was told by school officials that her son would have to take an assessment test, though it wouldn’t affect his admission to the school. Colar was told to come back that afternoon so her son could take the test. The mother of three said she was told her son didn’t pass the math assessment test and would be required to repeat the fourth grade.
Mark Pellegrin, superintendent of Household of Faith Schools, which includes Faith Academy and Ascension Christian School, said in a written statement that voucher transfers are held to the same standard as any other incoming transfer student.
“All new students entering the Household of Faith Schools are interviewed and evaluated as directed by the school’s procedures,” Pellegrin said. “The process is to guide (our) educators in determining the grade level at which students can experience the most success. In some cases students may be asked to repeat a grade. However, parents are advised and encouraged to do what is in the best interest of their family.”
Pellegrin didn’t directly answer if Le’Brandole was the only Faith Academy voucher transfer who was asked to repeat a grade, but said that “less than 1 percent” of the students were referred to remediation. Faith Academy and Ascension Christian were approved by the state to accept a combined 51 voucher students.
State Rep. Ed Price, D-Gonzales, said he is concerned about such schools applying for voucher students and then determining students who were approved by the state for a transfer don’t meet the schools’ standards.
“I certainly was not aware that kids had to be tested,” Price said.
A vocal opponent of the voucher system, Price said assessment tests were “never discussed” as part of the program, and he’s concerned it will give private and parochial schools the ability to “weed out certain kids” they don’t want to accept.
“This is not what this program is supposed to be about,” Price said. “It’s supposed to be about taking kids and educating them.”
Barry Landry, a spokesman with the Louisiana Department of Education, said assessment and placement tests are permitted, but “cannot be used to deny a student admission to the school.” Landry said that Faith Academy gives an assessment test to all incoming transfer students — not just voucher students — and didn’t change its existing policies to treat voucher students differently.
The school’s student handbook, available on its website, outlines the admissions policy for transfer students, saying they “must be on grade level or above on a nationally standardized achievement test.”
“It appears that this school has a rigorous promotion policy that exceeds that of public schools,” Landry said.
Colar said she pursued the voucher program because she wanted to remove her youngest son from a failing elementary school and give him a chance at a better education, but she’s not going to make her son repeat a grade when she believes he’s prepared to move forward.
“My son is almost a 4.0 student and passed the LEAP,” she said. “Why would I want to put him back in the fourth grade?”
Le’Brandole said he was mad when told that he would need to repeat the fourth grade and disappointed he won’t be attending Faith Academy.
“It would have made my momma more happy and gotten me a free education to go to a good school,” he said.
Instead of taking Faith Academy’s suggestion, Colar said Le’Brandole will start the fifth grade at Gonzales Primary when Ascension Parish students report back to school on Wednesday.
Colar’s biggest complaint about the process was that she didn’t know her son would be required to take an assessment test, and she didn’t feel he was given adequate warning in order to prepare for it.
“If I knew this was a test or something that he had to take, I would have had him more prepared for it,” Colar said. “I don’t think that was fair. I was not properly informed that he would be taking a test and that this was going to be an issue.”
Le’Brandole admitted he was nervous before taking the test, and he said he was distracted during the test because it was raining heavily. Ultimately, he said he feels upset “because I did so much hard work on the LEAP, and I was happy I was going to the fifth grade. I don’t want to repeat the fourth grade.”
Landry said the Faith Academy reclassification issue was the “first one I’ve heard of where this is taking place” and that it appears to be an isolated incident.