Superintendent voices concerns about new performance scale

Dr. Ken Oertling

St. Charles Parish public school officials are raising major concerns over a significant change to Louisiana’s system of evaluating the performance of K-12 schools.

The new methodology grades schools on a far harsher curve and potentially deemphasizes workforce training opportunities for students says Dr. Ken Oertling, superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools and the vice president of the state’s Association of School Superintendents.

Oertling wrote a letter earlier this month to the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) concerning the school and district accountability changes, which state officials approved last week. The accountability program assists BESE in measuring academic performance by assigning a letter grade between A and F each year.

Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley argues in support of the change that the current system sets a low bar in terms of proficiency in core subject areas, and that the new system will raise those expectations, and performance along with it.

Approximately 67 percent of schools across the state receive A or B grades from the existing system; BESE estimates that will drop to about 30 percent of schools under the new system, which gives more weight to scores on state tests over meeting grade-level targets. Proficiency will count less toward the current rating formula.

Under the current system, 70 percent of a high school’s rating is determined by graduation rate and college and career readiness. Twenty-five percent is based on exam scores. The new system would escalate end-of-course tests to carry 75 percent weight.

The new accountability system is slated to go into effect for the 2025-26 school year.

“Today marks the culmination of three years of work to elevate educational expectations for Louisiana,” Brumley said through a statement last week announcing the adoption of the system. “This revised system will drive performance to new levels and provide the public with a transparent understanding of school quality.”

Local superintendents have implored the state’s education board to postpone the changes.

Oertling argues the weight placed on end-of-course exams by the new system could lead to a too-narrow focus on instructional practices and not enough on other aspects of a student’s education to prepare for the future.

Furthermore, Oertling notes, of the six major exams this weighs, students must pass just three in order to graduate – which could lead to a lack of motivation to prepare for the remaining tests once three are passed, and thus potentially skew test scores for a school.

Oertling said the system will also significantly diminish the value of college credit or industry-based certifications earned. By combining dual enrollment, industry-based certifications and ACT/WorkKeys with a graduation cohort, schools will receive far less credit and thus less incentive to pursue those items, he said.

“We will take a step backward from the valuable college and career preparation initiatives you and the state have strengthened over the past several years,” Oertling wrote to BESE. “Using six subject-matter tests doesn’t provide an indication of how prepared students are for college and careers. We believe schools should receive more credit for increasing opportunities for students to earn college credit (both general education and technical education courses) and our valued industry-based certifications.

“Earning college credit can reduce the overall costs for students to attain a degree, and industry-based certifications can be evidence of an individual’s ability to learn and meet industry standards.”

Oertling said there’s been discussion back-and-forth for the past several weeks with district superintendents pushing for BESE to consider changes to the proposed system, particularly the high school portion of the system.

“It devalues the strength of diploma index (industry-based certification, dual enrollment credits, graduation rate and ACT score). That was about 50 percent of your evaluation grade,” Oertling said. “Now it’s going to be about one eighth of the overall grade. Students have to pass three of the six (English I, English II, geometry, Algebra, U.S. history and civics) tests in order to graduate. They’re valuing those six tests out of the 32 students take, as 75 percent of the overall score.”

Oertling noted that both Destrehan and Hahnville high schools, currently rated as A schools, would each drop to a B under the new system if results were exactly the same.

“It devalues and disincentivizes workforce development initiatives that school systems across the state have put into place,” Oertling said. “It devalues them so significantly – we’re going to be forced to put more into getting kids to mastery or advance, which has no direct correlation to success in college or career compared to what we were doing.”

 

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