Earlier this month, Louisiana’s State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) unanimously adopted a new and improved state K-12 education accountability policy for public schools. It was a pivotal step in the hard work of increasing student achievement in a state where, despite incremental improvements over the past few decades, still only one-third (33%) of students are on grade level in English, reading, math, science, and social studies. But within days of taking this step forward, leaders of Louisiana’s public-school establishment leveraged a new “K-12 Study Group” to begin the process of dismantling it.

School accountability systems measure the extent to which public schools—most of which continue to assign students to a single school based on where they live—are carrying out their responsibilities to help students learn basic concepts and skills. Louisiana has traditionally done this through the calculation of annual “School Performance Scores,” which are numerical scores and letter grades based, in large part, on the results of objective, standardized exams given to students in third grade through high school. The ratings are then made public so that families, educators, policymakers, and communities can take action as they deem appropriate.

Underperforming schools are labeled as needing improvement, but the label also qualifies them for additional funding to train teachers, provide student supports, and more. After four consecutive years of being labeled as failing or “academically unacceptable,” the state can assume control of the school by placing it into the state’s Recovery School District.

The new policy, which is the culmination of over 28 months of research, consultation with national experts, and input from diverse stakeholders, will take effect with the 2025-2026 school year. It will transition the current school accountability system to one that is much more streamlined, easy to understand, and focused on desired student outcomes. It consists of three main components, called “Grow,” “Achieve,” and “Thrive,” which focus on academic growth for every child, mastery of the state’s minimum learning standards at each grade level, and as students near graduation, readiness for college and careers.

Last week, however, at the first meeting of a new “K-12 Study Group” formed by the Governor’s Office and the Louisiana Legislature, public school representatives seemed to kick off their work to “move this state forward” by proposing to weaken BESE’s testing and accountability policies and making it easier for schools to achieve higher ratings. School board members, superintendents, principals, and teachers’ union representatives, who comprise the entirety of the study group aside from a few lawmakers and a representative of the Governor’s Office, discussed how certain students’ low levels of learning are causing school ratings and educators’ own personnel evaluations and ratings to suffer. There was little, if any, discussion about strategies to improve instruction and student learning.

The superintendent of the Tensas Parish School System, Joyce Russ, called for schools to receive points in the accountability system for students who achieve at the “Approaching Basic” and “Basic” levels, which are two full levels below proficiency (levels 2 and 3 on a 5-level scale, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest). BESE, based on the counsel of national testing experts and consistent with other states, has long considered “Mastery” (level 4) to be proficient. It’s the level at which students have demonstrate learning and readiness in order to successfully move on the next level in their education. The board’s new accountability system awards zero points for student achievement below Mastery.

Brad Norris, a school board member from Iberia Parish, complained that third grade content and reading screenings are too hard for students, and that students failing to demonstrate proficiency in reading by the end of third grade should not be required to engage in academic interventions over the summer as currently required.

Hennessy Melancon, a principal in Lafourche Parish, lamented about the use of student achievement data being used as a measurement of how well educators are doing their job. He recalled, “When I started teaching, there wasn’t any accountability on me.” He said that school accountability places a lot of “stress” on the adults in schools.

Michael Perdrotty, a principal in Bossier Parish, suggested that policymakers lower the cut score for the “Mastery” achievement level because too few students are achieving the expectation.

Don’t get me wrong, practitioners need to be at the table when discussing how to improve policy for our state’s K-12 public schools. Their perspectives are invaluable. But assembling a 100% establishment “study group” comprised almost entirely of government employees appointed by their respective state lobbying organizations and unions, and whose employment and paychecks are based in part on very policies they’re debating, is bound to involve conflicts of interest.

It was also disappointing that, while the Louisiana Department of Education and BESE oversee K-12 education as well as the policies and administration of testing and accountability in public schools, neither were included in the study group’s membership, nor were they reportedly invited to attend the meeting where they could have addressed quite a bit of misinformation.

Representatives of the Governor’s Office and the Legislature serving on the study group mentioned their goal of turning the group’s recommendations into multiple bills to be introduced in the 2025 legislative session. If this first meeting was any indication, those recommendations could do a lot more harm than good for Louisiana’s students, who BESE appropriately prioritized when it passed its new accountability policy last week.

Louisiana’s policymakers shouldn’t be so quick to undo it without overwhelming evidence that something better would benefit Louisiana’s children.