New pre-K plan to get run through

Louisiana’s prekindergarten overhaul will be tested for at least one year before any decisions are made on how schools and centers will be graded, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday.

“Until we see how those assessments work we will not develop an accountability measure,” White told reporters during a conference call.

The changes stem from a law enacted earlier this year aimed at upgrading what critics call a fractured pre-K setup with uneven quality, access and standards.

“Our kids are falling through the cracks because we have a fragmented system,” White said.

State officials are supposed to establish early learning performance guidelines for those up to age 3 and academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The new rules include grades; funding based on performance; new steps to make it easier for families to find pre-K classes and professional development for teachers.

The rules will apply to early childhood education programs serving children from birth to 5 that receive state or federal dollars.

The law leaves many of the details to White and his department, and the superintendent’s recommendations will be considered by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.

Child care leaders have generally praised the plan.

However, one of their questions is how grades will be determined for pre-K schools and centers, especially knowing that the rating system will have a big impact on whether parents use the sites.

White said the department has accepted many of the suggestions offered by officials of the Child Care Association of Louisiana and others since the initial plan was unveiled in October.

Launching the changes through pilot projects for the 2013-2014 school year — how many and where has not been decided — is one such suggestion that is now part of the state’s proposal.

“This was not always part of the plan,” White said. “It was changed in response to stakeholders’ feedback.”

However, he said child-care advocates urged state officials to use caution when they craft an accountability plan for pre-K centers.

White said earlier that grades will be based on classroom instruction and progress children are making toward kindergarten.

State officials say 54 percent of children in Louisiana enter kindergarten ready to learn. The goal is 70 percent.

Pre-K schools and centers that get low grades will receive help, but face cutoffs in state aid if they fail to show improvement.

In response to questions, White said he does not sense that child care providers are worried about the grades, especially since they backed the legislation that included the grading requirement.

A statewide trial run is set for the 2014-2015 school year.

All the changes take effect for the 2015-2016 school year.

The overhaul applies to pre-K classes in public schools, LA4, Head Start, Early Head Start and Early Steps, among others.