School reviews may get reprieve

Public schools should be shielded from dropping more than one letter grade when tougher academic standards take full effect next year, state Superintendent of Education John White said Thursday.

“This is a cautious approach,” White said.

About 1,300 public schools get annual letter grades from the state, which are based mostly on how students fared on key tests.

Last year 36 percent were rated D and F, down from 44 percent in 2011.

Schools with persistently low marks face state sanctions, and can be subject to state takeovers if they fail to make improvements.

In addition, parents and others carefully watch the results the grades are issued in October to see how their schools are faring.

The grade policy is designed to guard against any big drop in scores when more-rigorous classroom standards, called Common Core, are fully operational starting with the 2014-15 school year.

White noted that school rigor has been rising gradually without any major, negative impact on school performance.

“We shouldn’t be concerned that there will be any undue drops,” he told the Superintendents’ Advisory Council, an influential advisory panel.

But the state needs to take steps, he said, to make sure that raising Louisiana’s academic bar does not suggest that the performance of students and teachers is dropping unduly.

“The tests become noticeably harder this year,” he said.

The 11-member state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to decide on White’s plan in December.

The policy would be the second of its kind to prevent what officials consider unfair marks for schools.

Schools this year are scheduled to get two letter grades to show how they did under new and old state academic standards.

The council appeared poised to endorse White’s plan but then voted to simply accept the report, mostly because of concerns about other issues linked to new classroom standards.

Most states have adopted the new rigor, in part to help make students more competitive worldwide.

However, officials in each state decide how to measure student performance.

Bernard Taylor, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, questioned whether White’s proposed policy would go far enough.

The new classroom rigor means schools already rated C and D by the state and improving will face even tougher challenges, he said.

“If you drop from a D to an F, you are back in sanction world,” Taylor said, a reference to the fallout troubled schools face from state officials.

Taylor added after the meeting, “When you talk about a floor, there needs to be a safe harbor provision for all schools. When you drop from an A to a B, you are trying to explain that.

“But if a school moves itself from being an F to a D, they have more work to do that than the school that saw the drop from an A to a B.”

White’s plan also envisions a stable distribution of test scores in 2013-14 and beyond and that the state would gradually raise the level of what constitutes “proficient.”