The School Accountability System Should be Simple and Transparent
In just a few weeks, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will vote on whether to adopt a set of changes to Louisiana’s K-12 school accountability system that were proposed by State Superintendent Cade Brumley and the board’s Accountability Commission, which serves as a stakeholder-led advisory panel. The board deferred action on the proposed revisions during its last meeting after stakeholders, including the Pelican Institute, raised concerns after learning that two of the changes would result in higher ratings for schools without having achieved increases in student outcomes.
Further analysis and discussion of the proposed changes revealed that Louisiana’s K-12 school accountability system is based on a 150-point scale, not the typical 100-point scale parents are accustomed to seeing on their children’s report cards. Even more troubling is that the system actually rewards schools for student academic performance below proficient levels — that is, whether students are considered on grade level and “on track” to achieve college and career readiness.
In Louisiana, achievement at the “Mastery” level signifies proficiency (on grade level); however, the system awards significant points — 80 out of 100 points needed for Mastery — to schools whose students attain the lesser achievement level of “Basic.” In high schools, the state additionally rewards graduation rates where students have passed LEAP assessments with a score of “Approaching Basic,” which is two full levels below proficiency. To further mask low performance, the system awards 150 points for the small number of students who score at “Advanced” levels, making it incredibly difficult to discern how many students in a given school are performing below grade level and in need of interventions.
To put it simply, Louisiana school ratings are vastly inflated. If the system were based on a 100-point scale that simply awarded 100 points for students at Mastery and above, school ratings would be much lower, but they would offer a much more accurate picture of how well our schools are educating children in Louisiana. Instead, schools are receiving points for not getting kids to a level where they are prepared for college or a career.
For these reasons, Pelican remains extremely concerned with any proposal that would further water down our state’s educational accountability system. Instead, the board should focus on making it stronger and clearer, ensuring that it drives improvement toward true proficiency and gives families the information they desperately need about their local school’s overall quality. And while they’re at it, they should make the state’s School Finder dashboard more transparent about how ratings compare to peers nationally, not just within Louisiana, as well as how our schools’ spending compares to other states.
We hope the board will reject any attempts to make an already weak rating system even more lenient. Instead, let’s work together in the months ahead to strengthen it and make it a reliable tool for educators, families, and communities.