State eases stance on standards, testing

Published 11:11 am Saturday, November 23, 2013

BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Department of Education this week announced policies that will guide the state’s long-term transition to higher academic expectations, including the controversial Common Core State Standards and its accompanying Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, testing.
The policies, which were introduced at the state’s Accountability Commission this week, and to be presented to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its December meeting, were developed during months of meetings with educators, parents and policymakers across the state.
They include a requirement that by 2025 A-rated schools average student performance indicate true preparation for college and the workplace. The policies also allow two years of additional learning time, from 2013 through 2015, for families and educators learning the new academic expectations, prior to the state raising its accountability bar. 

“Our economy has changed, and our jobs have changed. If we want Louisiana jobs to go to Louisiana graduates, we have to raise expectations for students,” said State Superintendent John White. “I have traveled the state seeking the input of educators and parents on how best to do this, and I believe that providing more time for educators, parents and students to learn these new expectations is critical to achieving that objective.”

Fewer than 30 percent of Louisianans have a two- or four-year degree, while more jobs than ever before require education beyond high school. To prepare students for the rigor of education after high school, in 2010 Louisiana adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading, writing, and math. This school year’s state-administered LEAP tests will fully measure these expectations. By 2015, Louisiana schools will measure achievement on tests that allow comparisons to other states.

Currently, an “A” school in Louisiana is one where the average student performs at “basic” or level three on a five-point scale on state assessments. However, national and state tests indicate that it is “level four” on a five-point scale or “mastery” that prepares students to achieve bachelor and associate degrees. As a result, the state proposed that by 2025, an “A” school in Louisiana will be one where the average student performs at “mastery” or level four on a five-point scale.
Tests taken in 2015 will provide a starting point or “baseline” for slowly raising the bar for school letter grades over a 10-year period, until such time that an A-rated school must average performance of “mastery” or level four on a five point scale.
In the time between 2013 and the 2015 starting point, the proposed policies will provide educators, parents and students time to learn the new standards.

• Test scheduling. The state will propose that in 2015 students take the PARCC test in grades 3 to 8 (online in grades 5-8; paper in grades 3 and 4). However, to allow schools and districts more time to learn the new expectations, Louisiana high schools will not transition to PARCC in 2015.
• School accountability. School letter grades will be assigned on a curved distribution in 2014 and 2015 so that the starting point is fair and transparent prior to the 10-year escalation.
• Teacher accountability. For 2014 and 2015, the state will not produce “value-added data” because there will be no baseline for calculating the scores. Compass and related compensation tenure policies will remain in effect, but there will be no requirement that student learning scores be based on value-added data.
• Student accountability. In 2014 and 2015, the state will maintain current fourth-grade promotion policies, but the proposal allows districts to issue waivers for students demonstrating readiness to progress. The state will also shift the eighth grade retention policy to be a remediation policy, proposing that remediation take place on the high school campus in a “transitional ninth-grade” year.
To support these policies, the Department will provide supports to educators and school districts. First, the state will provide additional flexibility as districts work to become technology ready. In 2015, students in grades 3 and 4 will take paper/pencil tests rather than computer-based tests. Additionally, the state will conduct a “dry run” of computer-based tests in every district. If specific schools serving grades 5 to 8 are unable to reach technology readiness status, the state will grant one-year exemptions.
While continuing to expand the online Classroom Support Toolbox, the state will also produce a hard-copy Louisiana Curriculum Guidebook for English Language Arts and mathematics in grades kindergarten through 12 that will include a recommended sequence of skills to be taught, units to present and classroom materials to use. The state will continue to recommend packaged math curricula, including the LSU-developed Eureka Math and English instructional materials and text sets for all grade levels.

Per policy making schedules established this summer, BESE will take up related high school policies at its January and March meetings, including considerations related to career education and workforce preparation.