Earlier this week, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to approve just one piece of a proposal to revamp the Louisiana K-12 Education School and District Accountability System, which would have better aligned the rating system with the board’s stated goals of having students achieve Mastery (proficiency) on state tests and graduate college and career ready. The accountability system is supposed to provide accurate information to parents and the public about student learning and school performance. It is also used to formally identify public schools that are underperforming and need intervention, and it serves as a motivator for schools to help students meet certain academic goals like attaining proficiency in core academic subjects and graduating with college credit and/or industry-based credentials valued in the workplace.

The board advanced a policy to incorporate measurements of student learning in grades kindergarten, one, and two, plugging a gap that has existed in the 3rd through 12th-grade accountability system since its inception. The move, coupled with a statewide strategy to improve the teaching of reading and provide tutoring to children who are struggling, is expected to improve the low percentage of children reading on grade level – 49 percent in grades K-3. This past spring, only 42 percent of third graders scored at proficient levels in English and reading on the 2022 LEAP test.

In response to vocal opposition by the school system establishment and teachers’ unions, BESE deferred action on other proposals that would have addressed how well student learning and school performance are measured and reported in grades three through high school. Currently, the accountability system gives generous points to schools for getting students to a Basic level, which is the level below Mastery, with few incentives to get students to the level at which they’re proficient. It does a poor job of measuring and rewarding growth in student achievement and contains a number of extremely inflated measurements for how well high schools prepare kids for college and the workplace. As a result, in a state where only about a third of students graduate proficient in core academic subjects and very few are trained to enter high-demand, high-wage jobs, 70 percent of high schools in Louisiana are rated “A” or “B.” A shocking 92 percent are rated “A,” “B,” or “C.” Those high marks don’t jive with national ratings that consistently rank Louisiana at 48th or 49th in education. The public just doesn’t buy it.

Furthermore, the fact that Louisiana is the fourth highest state for disengaged youth, defined as the percentage of 16- to 24-year-olds who are neither in school nor working, shows that our system isn’t working. Something has to change. We can’t keep implementing an accountability system that isn’t aligned with our goals for student achievement and isn’t trusted by parents and the public. We also can’t keep making excuses like things really aren’t that bad or teaching kids at high levels is too hard, which seemed to be the prevailing message of the school system establishment that testified at BESE. And we can’t play politics with our kids’ future.

The decline in public school enrollment signals that parents are fed up with abysmal outcomes in many public schools. They want government-run schools to get better, be responsive to the needs of their kids, or get out of the way. Families are looking for other options to give their kids a high-quality educational experience that prepares them to be thriving adults, and they’re becoming less and less accepting of having to pay twice through taxes that fund public schools and private school tuition. In 2021, 19 states enacted school choice programs, and more have followed in 2022. Louisiana’s legislature passed two school choice bills that Governor Edwards vetoed, and they’ll surely be back next year. If government-run schools don’t embrace accountability and respond accordingly, the public will achieve accountability through their elected lawmakers.

We urge BESE to spend the next few months re-evaluating the accountability proposal, comparing its policies to the goals they’ve set for student achievement, and then enacting bold change that is focused on kids, what’s best for their future, and what will lift Louisiana to the state we all want it to be.