State Superintendent John White’s lengthy proposal to overhaul the way schools are assessed in Louisiana, including changes to how the state grades schools in accountability, has been met with both praise and concerns from educators and school officials around the state.
The overhaul is part of the state’s application to the U.S. Department of Education requesting a waiver of the stringent No Child Left Behind requirements, the details of which are outlined in a Monday report from The Times-Picayune.

Tom Spencer, a federal programs specialist for the Lafayette Parish School System, reviewed the state’s proposal and has “major concerns” that the proposal could increase high school dropout rates. After sending his thoughts on the waiver application to DOE, Spencer says DOE has since informed him that some changes have been made to the final application, though he has not yet seen the latest version.

His comments, which he also sent to state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Lottie Beebe, are posted verbatim below:

My major concern has to do with unintended consequences.  The proposal, as it exists, will increase dropouts.  The LDE provides a list of first time freshmen who are unlikely to graduate in 4 years.  If there is no incentive for anything less than a graduate in 4 years, schools will identify a group of students and ‘help them’ out of the system.  They are likely to hide this by submitting falsified data – as they already are.

Example – Tom Spencer is labeled by the state as unlikely to graduate on time.  Halfway through his 9th grade year the counselor confirms that he will not pass any of his core subjects for the year.  If Tom drops out/goes to adult ed/enrolls in votec, he will not be taking (and scoring poorly on) any of the state tests or ACT.  It is to the school’s advantage to get him out of the system ASAP.

The old assessment system adjusted the school’s assessment results so that Tom’s ‘disappearance’ would have the impact of assigning a 0 for every test Tom didn’t take.  This ‘dropout adjustment’ was removed from policy for 2011-12.  The grad index gives a little bit of credit to the school that keeps Tom enrolled, even though he doesn’t get a diploma in 4 years.  It gives a little more credit if a special student earns a certificate.  It also awards credit for a student who graduates in 5 or 6 years, and to the school that re-enrolls a dropout and gets him a diploma.  These are things we should be promoting and the proposal doesn’t consider them.

You won’t hear many superintendents or principals bring up these points.  The proposal lets them get away with pushing Tom out.  This isn’t the best for our kids.  It may be simpler and get rid of the grumbling, “We get hit twice for a dropout.”  I don’t care how large a majority supports an issue, in this instance it is wrong.

I think the overarching objective is to do what’s best for kids, and that would be to keep them in school.  It certainly isn’t to pick the ‘losers’ in 9th grade and get them out of the way.

Reinstate the drop adjustment, credit for keeping kids enrolled, and incentive to get a kid a diploma in a little more than 4 years.

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