Panel grapples with standards

A key panel Wednesday rejected efforts by teacher union leaders to impose a moratorium on public-school letter grades in the first year that students are tested under more rigorous standards.

Instead, schools would be shielded from dropping by more than one grade after the 2014-2015 school year under a plan proposed by state Superintendent John White and endorsed by the School Accountability Commission.

The panel, which advises the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, includes superintendents, teacher representatives, parents and others.

BESE is supposed to decide the issue in December.

All the issues relate to Common Core, a series of yearly academic standards that students are supposed to know to improve performance and make them more competitive. Louisiana and 44 other states have endorsed the new standards.

Louisiana is one of 18 states and the District of Columbia that will use a testing system called PARCC to see how students fared under new math and English standards, and how they compare with their peers.

The state issues letter grades to about 1,300 public schools annually, which are mostly based on how students did on key tests.

White said barring grades from dropping by more than one letter grade is a precaution and that wholesale declines are not expected, even with the new rigor.

But Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, and Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, urged the panel to back Monaghan’s plan that would temporarily prevent school letter grades from drops of any kind.

Monaghan noted that state-issued letter grades already carry their own controversy.

“It’s my hold harmless,” he said of the one-year moratorium.

Brandy Thomas, a representative of parents on the commission, disagreed with concerns that even a one-letter drop could leave a school with an “F” rating under the new testing system.

Thomas, who lives in Reeves, said grades are not about hurting someone’s feelings.

“What if a school really did fail? If a school failed they should be held accountable,” she said.

Stephanie Desselle, another member of the commission, also opposed Monaghan’s proposal.

“It’s like saying the year doesn’t count when actually we want them to be striving more,” said Desselle, a commission member who follows public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana.

Meaux backed the one-year ban on school letter grades.

During the move to new standards, Meaux said, students and schools “have to have the ability to fall down a little bit.”

The moratorium proposal failed when two members voted for it and 13 opposed. Only Monaghan and Meaux voted for it.

The plan endorsed by the commission would also initially retain the state’s current definition of “proficiency” on key tests, which is the third of five grading levels and called “basic” by Louisiana officials.