Louisiana superintendent opposes proposed graduation standards

Published 4:43 pm Tuesday, October 10, 2023

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(The Center Square) — Opposition is mounting as Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education prepares for a final vote next week on a proposal to allow students who failed state tests to graduate by other means.

The proposal published in the Louisiana Register aims to allow students not meeting the current graduation standard to complete a project or portfolio that their teacher would grade. With a passing grade, students would receive a diploma that would count toward their school’s accountability rating score.

For roughly 30 years, students have had to earn 10-38% of available points on state tests to earn a diploma, which served as a safeguard against turning out graduates who can’t read or do basic math.

Public comment on the proposal has been overwhelmingly opposed to the change, with 16 letters from citizens and organizations across the state pushing back on the plan. Cade Brumley, the state superintendent, has also joined the chorus with a letter to the board describing the proposal as “bad public policy,” urging members to “abandon the rulemaking process.”

“At its core, the proposed graduation appeals process dangerously signals to our state and nation that Louisiana’s educational system is incapable of providing – and students are unable to attain – a minimum standard of proficiency in required subjects,” he wrote.

“We should continue the exploration and expansion of academic and support options for students, not impose a government-sanctioned excuse for mediocrity.”

Brumley also outlined several “missteps” in creating the proposed rule, including failure to consult the Accountability Council, inadequate input from stakeholders such as teachers and business leaders who would be impacted, and failure to consult with the Senate and House finance committees that would be required to appropriate funds for the changes.

Proponents of the plan, led by state board President Holly Boffy, elected to District 7, and board member Belinda Davis, appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, argue some students simply struggle with tests but understand the content. Others have argued the tests are unfair for minorities.

“There are many examples throughout the state of students with unique testing difficulties being tested repeatedly without success, despite having a strong understanding of the content,” Boffy said this summer. “The goal of the policy … is to provide an appeals process for these students in confirming their graduation eligibility and readiness for postsecondary opportunities.”

Opponents including the Pelican Institute, ExcelinEd in Action, Greater New Orleans Inc., Business Council of New Orleans, and numerous citizens who have weighed in argue the change will further distort the state’s accountability system and ultimately result in less focus on helping students achieve basic proficiency.

Statewide, just over a third of Louisiana public high schools students perform on grade level, yet 70% of schools are rated “A” or “B,” a situation that has prompted efforts to reform the system.

“The new appeals process would lower the bar for graduates, put them at a disadvantage and harm those students who need the most help,” Katherine Munal, legislative director for ExcelinEd in Action, wrote in her comments to the board.

“One way or another, Louisiana must stay the course in improving its educational system and truly empowering its people with opportunity that comes from receiving a great education,” Erin Bendily, vice president for policy and strategy at the Pelican Institute, wrote this week in a commentary on the plan. “Workarounds and waivers won’t help our children prepare for an increasingly demanding world and it certainly won’t make for a strong Louisiana workforce and economy.”

The board is expected to vote on the plan when it meets on Oct. 10 and 11. A prior vote to move forward with the policy was 6-5, with Edwards’ three appointees joining with three elected members.