Yes, you read that right. It’s shocking, but true. Louisiana’s State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is planning to take a final vote next week on a proposal to allow students who fail state LEAP tests required for graduation to receive a diploma if they complete a portfolio project. About 30 years of having a minimum test score requirement where students have to earn a mere 10-38% of available points—which has served as safeguard to not award diplomas to students who can’t read and do basic math—could be essentially nullified by a 6-5 vote of the board when it meets on October 10 and 11.  

A 6-5 vote is what got this proposal this far in the process, after all. Governor Edwards’ three appointees joined with three elected members to advance the proposal despite significant policy, legal, and financial concerns expressed by their own administrative agency, the Louisiana Department of Education. 

Proponents say the move is needed to allow kids who have struggled to meet the current test-based graduation requirements, particularly new transfer students who do not speak English, to transition to employment. Opponents point to mandated tutoring and other forms of academic support and interventions that these students should be receiving, as well as their ability to take the HiSET to earn an equivalency diploma (previously referred to as a GED) if they still cannot meet graduation requirements. 

State Superintendent Cade Brumley called the proposal “bad public policy” and urged the board to “abandon” it. In a cover letter accompanying a summary of public comments received on the proposal and published this past weekend, Brumley echoed concerns about issuing “participation trophies,” calling the proposal a dangerous, government-sanctioned excuse for mediocrity. He expressed concern that such a move would signal that Louisiana’s educational system is incapable of providing—and students are unable to attain—a minimum standard of proficiency, which we know to be absolutely false.  

He also noted that the process followed in developing the policy did not include essential stakeholders, the proposal includes perverse incentives for schools to inflate graduation rates and accountability ratings, and commits local school systems and the state to significant financial costs that have not been funded by or even discussed with the Legislature. 

Those interested in weighing in on this important topic can contact their elected BESE representative. If BESE chooses to approve this proposal, the Legislature and the Governor can exercise their oversight authority to stop the policy from going into effect, and if they choose not to do so, a new BESE board will take office in January and may choose to reverse it.  

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. 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. We owe it to them and our state to address any gaps the right way, enabling our state to achieve a Comeback where everyone thrives.