Even low-achieving students earned bonus points for their public schools last week under Louisiana’s new policy on how letter grades are figured.
On Oct. 24, officials of the state Department of Education announced that 28 percent of schools were rated D and F, down from 36 percent last year.
Less clear was the fact that, under a new policy, schools and school districts were rewarded points on key tests for showing significant gains even if student scores remained below grade level.
State Superintendent of Education John White, who pushed for the changes, said while the new rules can be debated they are not fueling grade inflation.
“My feeling is a school that takes hard-to-serve kids and makes great gains with them deserves credit for that,” White said.
Michael Faulk, former president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said he has reservations about the new policy.
“I am still having issues with the bonus points,” Faulk said.
He said 47 of the state’s 70 school districts — 67 percent — were rewarded the maximum number of extra points, which is 10 on a 150-point scale.
“I got four bonus points and I am still having trouble understanding that,” said Faulk, who is superintendent of the A-rated Central school system.
Hollis Milton, superintendent of the A-rated West Feliciana Parish School District, said how bonus points are assigned “is quite a bit unclear” and another reason that the state’s grading formula needs review.
“There needs to be better communication,” Milton said.
The letter grades are designed to give parents, students and taxpayers a clear understanding of the quality of a school.
They replaced a system that linked school quality to stars, which critics said sparked confusion.
White spelled out the change in February, 2012 as a way to improve the state’s focus on about 230,000 public school students — roughly one third of the total — who perform below grade level.
It was part of the state’s waiver request to federal officials to avoid some of the requirements of a 2001 law called the No Child Left Behind Act,
Under the revamp, the state created a new “super subgroup” of students struggling in math or English.
Those who showed better than expected test gains, even if the results are still low, would generate points for their schools.
Under the previous system students got points for scoring at the fourth of five levels — approaching basic — even though that meant they were below grade level.
That policy was dropped this year as part of Louisiana’s push to add rigor to classrooms.
Instead, the state switched to a formula that aided schools where at least 30 percent of students made “significant” gains, even if the student’s score fell short of his or her grade level.
“If you have a kid performing at the bottom you want to make sure that there is still incentive for the school to do really well with the kid,” White said.
The state has about 1,300 public schools.
White said 154 schools rose a letter grade because of the bonus points.
Faulk said the state lacks detailed rules on how the extra credit is awarded, which he said then leaves wide discretion to officials of the state Department of Education.
Milton said the issue needs review by the Accountabilty Commission, an advisory panel for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Bonus points create such variances,” he said.