Common Core promotion proposal sparks dispute

While some key state tests are on the way out because of Common Core, state Superintendent of Education John White’s proposal to change promotion rules is sparking controversy.

White announced Thursday that high school students will not take the national Common Core test in 2015 to give schools more time to get ready for tougher national standards.

In addition, 2014 is the last year that fourth- and eighth-graders will take the math and English LEAP test required for promotion.

While most of the attention focused on elementary and middle schools, White did propose that eighth-graders who fail to meet the state’s standard in English or math should move to high school as a “transitional” ninth-grader who will have to take remedial work, rather than remain in the eighth grade.

Debbie Schum, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Principals, said the change could have a negative impact on students and high schools. “We have to say more than we will put them on a high school campus and do remediation,” said Schum, a former principal of East St. John High School in LaPlace.

Schum, who raised the issue on Thursday at the School Accountability Commission, said eighth-graders unable to meet the state’s math and English passing marks have academic problems that go back well before the eighth grade.

Moving them to a high school campus might mean that “we have pushed the problem forward,” said Schum, a former top official of the state Department of Education who helped oversee high school operations.

She also said that, under previous state policies, allowing troubled students to move to high school and be classified as an 8.5 student failed to work without the student getting more than remedial assistance.

White, who presented his plan to the commission, countered that 40 percent of the students retained for another year in the eighth-grade never reach high school.

He told lawmakers earlier this month that he was concerned about eighth-graders being “stuck” there during the state’s move to tougher academic standards.

Keeping students in eighth grade, White told reporters Thursday, “puts them in an environment with pre-adolescent kids. That is too often the case.”

The commission, which is a key advisory panel for Louisiana’s top school board, eventually endorsed White’s plan.

It is set for a vote by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in early December.

The Common Core State Standards are national math, reading and writing goals aimed at improving student performance.

White’s high school promotion proposal is significant for several reasons.

Under current rules, fourth- and eighth-graders have to pass the math and English LEAP to move to the fifth and ninth grades.

The policy was designed to end social promotions and to see if students could meet modest state expectations in two key subjects.

The 2014 version of LEAP and other exams will be linked to Common Core standards, state officials said.

What tests high school students will take instead of the national Common Core exam has not been decided, and likely will not be until March or later.

Louisiana ranks near the bottom nationally in key public school indicators and has for decades.

The state’s high school graduation rate for 2012 was 72 percent, up from 71 percent in 2011, which was 47th in the nation.

In addition, the ninth-grade is the most common dropout level for high school students.

Schum, whose group represents about 1,000 principals, said national statistics show that ninth-graders say they believe they get more academic support on middle school campuses.

“That is due in large part because middle schools are generally smaller,” she said.