White announces Common Core changes

Responding to complaints about Common Core, state Superintendent of Education John White proposed changes on teacher evaluations, public school letter grades and promotion policies Thursday during Louisiana’s move to more rigorous academic standards.

Education leaders complimented parts of the plan, including some officials who have been sharply critical of previous state plans.

However, the presidents of two teacher unions and the Louisiana School Boards Association said it should include a temporary halt on the state issuing grades for public schools.

The proposal faces a key vote next month, and likely approval, at the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is dominated by allies of White and Gov. Bobby Jindal.

All the changes deal with Common Core State standards, which have sparked heated public hearings, angry letters and threats of legislative action in recent weeks.

The changes mean that:

Public schools will be graded on a curve during the transition to guard against any major drops, which means the same overall number of schools will be rated A, B, C, D and F in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The state will not evaluate teachers based on the growth of student achievement — called value added — for 2014 and 2015 but instead rely on other data.

The new tests in 2015 will apply to students in grades 3-8, not high school students.

Fourth-graders will be required to earn a certain score for promotion, as they have in the past, but local districts would be able to grant promotion waivers to move to the fifth-grade if they believe the student is prepared in 2014 and 2015.

Also, rather than retaining eighth-graders who cannot pass a high-stakes test, those students will move to high school as “transitional” ninth-graders and undergo remedial work.

In another area, students in grades 3 and 4 will be allowed to take the national test with pencil and paper rather than a computer.

Students in grades 5-8 can get a one-year computer waiver for 2015 if schools can demonstrate a shortage.

White said the goal is that, by 2025, A-rated public schools will consist of students where the average score is four out of five on key tests, called mastery, rather than today’s three out of five, known as basic.

He said that doing so will lift the state’s rate of adults with associate or bachelor’s degrees, which is now 28 percent.

All of the proposals unveiled on Thursday were a response to BESE’s requirement for an accountability plan during the overhaul.

The changes only affect how students and teachers are measured under Common Core, not the academic standards themselves.

Common Core has been adopted by 45 states.

Backers say the new standards will improve student achievement.

Opponents say they were adopted by the state school board in 2010 without enough public input and need to be delayed or scrapped.

The 2014 regular session begins on March 10, and Common Core is expected to be a key issue.

Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, said the changes clearly stem from complaints on how Common Core was unfolding. “The noise was deafening,” Monaghan said.

Monaghan called some of the changes “a very positive step” but later urged White to back a suspension of state-issued letter grades for public schools during the overhaul.

Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, also called for the letter-grade suspension, which she said is needed because students will be grappling with radically different tests.

Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said White’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

However, Richard said that issuing letter grades on a curve would be ill-advised. He said it would be better to have a temporary moratorium on the grades during the transition.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows public school issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, generally praised the proposal during a Thursday meeting of the School Accountability Commission, which reviewed the plan.

In a prepared statement, LABI President Stephen Waguespack, a former Jindal aide and ex-BESE member, said White deserved praise for listening to education stakeholders in coming up with the changes. He said it would allow the state to move forward on Common Core “while also allowing a grace period for students, parents and teachers to understand and implement more rigor in classrooms over the next two years.”

White, in a meeting with reporters, acknowledged that in his travels around the state one of the criticisms is that the new academic rules are being implemented too quickly.

Common Core classroom changes are being phased into public school classrooms. Students will take tests in the spring with what state officials call Common Core-like rigor before the new goals and national exams take full effect for the 2014-15 school year.

Critics have said it is unfair to require local schools districts to craft their own curriculum to meet the new standards.

White said the state will produce a Louisiana Curriculum Guidebook for English and math for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Patrice Pujol, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, praised the proposed changes in teacher reviews and the state assistance on curriculum.

However, Pujol said numerous superintendents still have concerns about the national test linked to the new standards.