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PAR Says Accountability Program Faces Major Challenges

PAR Says Accountability Program Faces Major Challenges

Posted: 04/08/2003

Important decisions must be made this year that could reshape the state’s School and District Accountability Program, the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) said in a report released today. The third in a series entitled “Close-up on Education Accountability” focused on three major areas of concern that must be resolved this year. “The demands of the new federal education act (No Child Left Behind), the state’s own ‘high stakes’ testing policy and the process for school reconstitution require important decisions and possible changes in the state accountability system this year,” PAR president Jim Brandt explained.

Louisiana has made or is making significant changes in its accountability program to accommodate the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. These have included raising the bar for school performance, new tests, earlier sanctions, reporting sub-group performance and developing formal grade level expectations for every grade. The state is currently in the process of negotiating its accountability plan through the federal approval process. “The question now is whether the state can accommodate the remaining federal requirements and not lose the basic elements of its own program which have been implemented and generally accepted,” Brandt said.

A major sticking point is the NCLB demand that school performance be measured by sub-group performance. If a sub-group (racial, economic or ability level) fails, the school fails. Louisiana’s system has measured school performance based on the average of all students in the school. If the feds are inflexible, the number of schools with failing grades could rise substantially.

Another issue is the passing score on the high stakes LEAP tests scheduled to be raised from “Approaching Basic” to “Basic” in 2004. Based on recent test scores, roughly 40% of fourth-graders and half of all eighth-graders (70% and 80% in Orleans) could be expected to fail the spring 2004 tests. Some would pass a retest after summer school, but most would either repeat the grade or enter high school as an 8 1/2-grader.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) has postponed until later in the year making a decision on whether to delay raising the scores. An advisory committee has recommended a four year delay for eighth-graders. Other options are being considered as well. Those backing a delay argue that the “Basic” score is too high, the schedule was set arbitrarily, the cost of remediation and retention would be exorbitant and the delay would not lower standards or hamper the state from reaching the NCLB goal of having all students at the “Basic” level by 2013-14.

Those objecting to the delay argue it would be a step backward from reform, that schools have had four years to prepare students for the higher standard and that the “Approaching Basic” level was created only as a temporary measure to initially avoid retaining as many students. A delay, they say, would continue social promotion for thousands of students and reduce the pressure on the schools to make improvement.

Voters may be given the opportunity to make a significant decision regarding the state’s ability to take a more forceful role in school reconstitution. Currently, if they fail to improve, as many as 23 schools could become subject to reconstitution this fall. The school district would have to draw up a reconstitution plan for the “Failed” schools which could require changing or replacing staff or redesignation as a magnet or charter school. However, the constitution prevents the state from taking charge of the school, giving that responsibility to a university or contracting with a private organization to administer the school. A proposed constitutional amendment to give the state this authority has been introduced in the current legislative session.

“The state should make every effort to combine the best elements of the federal and state accountability systems and voters should give the state authority to assume control of failing schools as an additional form of reconstitution,” Brandt concluded. “The decision on raising the passing grade on the ‘high stakes’ tests requires more conclusive evidence regarding the appropriateness of “Basic” as the cutoff score.”

A free copy of the report may be obtained by writing PAR at P. O. Box 14776, Baton Rouge, LA 70898-4776 or by calling (225) 926-8414. The report is also posted on PAR’s website at www.la-par.org.
For More Information Contact:
Jim Brandt – President
225 926-8414 (ext. 21)

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