La. public schools to get multiple grades

In a one-time change, state officials said Thursday they plan to issue two letter grades to public schools this fall to show how they fared under new and old academic standards.

“This is a common sense proposal so that the public understands that we are changing the rules of the game,” state Superintendent of Education John White said.

But some members of the Superintendents’ Advisory Council, a key panel, said the plan will cause confusion.

“It will be hard to relate to the public when you have two grades,” said Michael Faulk, chairman of the panel and superintendent of the Central school system.

The state has issued letter grades to all of Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools since 2011.

In October officials announced that 36 percent of public schools were rated D and F, down from 44 percent in 2011.

But the formula to determine those grades is changing, primarily for high schools.

Under the old rules, grades for high schools were based primarily on how students fared on end-of-course tests as well as graduation rates.

Under the new system grades will be made up of four components worth 25 percent each:

  • End-of-course exams.
  • ACT, a test of college readiness.
  • Graduation rate.
  • An index that awards advanced coursework and other factors.

White downplayed concerns that the two grades will trigger confusion among parents and students.

“We have gotten lots of feedback from schools that want to be honored for the good work they have done,” White said. “We don’t want that to be lost in the transition.”

Grades for elementary and middle scores will continue to stem mostly from test scores, including LEAP and iLEAP.

Doris Voitier, superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish school system, said early indications are that, while those scores will change little, school performance results for high schools will show a “drastic change.

Faulk agreed. “The issue is high schools,” he said.

Faulk noted that classrooms are already undergoing sweeping changes, with teachers facing new evaluations this year and tougher academic standards set to begin in 2014.

“There is a lot of uncertainity, a lot of anxiety,” he said.

Educators have said that, with the new requirement that all students take the ACT, overall ACT results are almost certain to drop, which will have an impact on high school grades.

White said the state has taken steps to prevent any wholesale decline, including a generous portion of points per high school for each student that scores at least an 18 — modest at best — on the ACT.

A perfect score is 36.

White said the grade that schools get under the new academic formula is the key rating for rewards and sanctions and will serve as the baseline for future years.

He said he plans to present his two-grade plan to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education later this spring.