BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion won't be affected by Louisiana's shift to more rigorous educational standards for two years, the state's top school board decided Tuesday.
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education overwhelmingly supported changes pushed by Superintendent of Education John White to give schools, teachers and students time to adjust to the transition to the Common Core standards.
White told the board that he pushed for the delay in consequences tied to the stricter standards because he didn't "want a school denigrated, teachers humiliated or a student punished because of the raising of expectations."
Louisiana's accountability system for public schools assigns letter grades to schools and districts based on student performance on standardized tests and other measures. Those grades determine if a school can be taken over by the state for poor performance or if students are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools instead. Student performance on standardized tests also is used to calculate some teacher evaluations.
The gravity of consequences for poor performance has heightened concerns about the state's phase-in of the more rigorous Common Core standards, grade-by-grade benchmarks adopted by most states of what students should learn in reading, writing and math.
Under the plan backed by the education board, the state's accountability standards — including the grading of students, schools and teachers — will be raised to match the Common Core in 2015, with a slow adjustment to toughen the school grades set to phase in through 2025.
"There's nothing wrong with taking a step back and saying we want to get this right," said Jane Smith, a new BESE member appointed to the board by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
A BESE committee with all members present and voting supported White's recommendations. The board takes a final, procedural vote Wednesday, but that was expected to mirror the committee vote.
The delay of consequences was designed to lessen criticism of the standards by lawmakers, parents and teacher unions — and to blunt a planned legislative effort to undo the standards entirely.
But the slowed transition plan didn't address all the issues raised by school superintendents, the state school boards association and union leaders Tuesday.
They unsuccessfully sought to scrap plans to shift students in third through eighth grades to a new type of standardized tests, and they wanted a two-year moratorium on assigning letter grades to schools.
Instead, what was approved included:
—Public schools will be graded on a curve in 2014 and 2015.
—The new standardized tests planned for 2015 won't apply to high school students.
—Teachers won't be judged based on growth in student achievement on standardized tests for 2014 and 2015.
—Local school districts can give promotion waivers in 2014 and 2015 to fourth-graders and eighth-graders even if they don't pass the standardized tests that usually determine if they can advance to the next grade.
Forty-five states have adopted the Common Core. The board agreed to use the standards in Louisiana three years ago. Critics have said the transition to the standards in Louisiana has happened with too little guidance, training and funding.
BESE President Chas Roemer said he expects additional policy changes over the next six months to guide the phase-in of the toughened standards.
"We'll need to continue to look at it to get it right," he said.