Louisiana graduation requirement rule change will receive a public hearing

(The Center Square) – A proposed rule that would allow Louisiana high school students who failed state tests to graduate by other means will receive a public hearing next week.

The opportunity…

(The Center Square) – A proposed rule that would allow Louisiana high school students who failed state tests to graduate by other means will receive a public hearing next week.

The opportunity for citizens to weigh in on the proposal on Aug. 28 follows a public comment period that netted 16 letters from citizens and organizations across the state, all of which pushed back on the plan from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“The new appeals process would lower the bar for graduates, put them at a disadvantage and harm those students who need the most help,” wrote Katherine Munal, legislative director for ExcelinEd in Action.

The proposal published in the Louisiana Register aims to allow students not meeting the current graduation standard to complete a project or portfolio that their teacher would grade. If the students receive a passing grade on the assignment, they would receive a diploma that would count toward their school’s accountability rating score.

“The Business Council (of New Orleans and the River Region) has worked for decades to ensure our public schools deliver on their promise of a quality public education that prepares our students to reach their potential,” chair Paul Flower wrote to the BESE. “This proposed rule change, which opens the door for tolerance of a school’s failure to perform, contradicts our efforts and underserves our students.”

The change was prompted by BESE President Holly Boffy, elected to District 7, and board member Belinda Davis, appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, who convinced the BESE to adopt the policy following a presentation in June.

“There are many examples throughout our state of students with unique testing difficulties being tested repeatedly without success, despite having a strong understanding of the content,” Boffy said in June. “The goal of the policy … is to provide an appeals process for these students in confirming their graduation eligibility and readiness for postsecondary opportunities.”

Initially, the proposal aimed at finding a solution to help middle and high school students with limited English proficiency but morphed into a universal policy for all students.

Erin Bendily, vice president for policy and strategy at the free market Pelican Institute, outlined numerous objections to the plan itself and the process for adopting the rule, which included “very little stakeholder input,” she wrote to BESE.

“Those who serve on School Building Level Committees, which would bear the responsibility of implementing these new, detailed and time-consuming requirements at a time when schools are reporting significant certified personnel shortages, were not consulted,” Bendily noted.

Bendily also highlighted “significant concerns about potential conflicts of interest related to school accountability,” noting graduation rates comprise 20% of high school performance scores.

Louisiana’s high school graduate rates increased by double digits when the state testing requirement was waived for all students during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, compared to pre-pandemic rates. Statewide, just over a third of Louisiana public high schools students perform on grade level, yet 70% of schools are rated “A” or “B,” a situation that has prompted efforts to reform the system.

Bendily and others argue the BESE proposal would further distort the school accountability system and ultimately result in less focus on helping students achieve basic proficiency.

While the public can weigh in at the Aug. 28 meeting – scheduled for 2 p.m. at the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge — it’s unclear whether state board members will be in attendance to hear their concerns.

An email to BESE members from Executive Director Shan Davis notes “BESE members are not required to attend.” A formal record of the proceeding will be forwarded to BESE and lawmakers.

“At the October 2023 meeting, BESE will consider whether or not the (proposal) will become Final Rule, which will be part of the formal record forwarded to the Legislature. The Legislature could choose to convene its own hearing,” Davis wrote.