School grades could drop under tougher rating system

The reopening of public schools this month has reportedly led representatives from public school districts across the state to warn parents that the grades they’re used to seeing for their children’s school may drop under a new statewide rating system with tougher parameters.

School performance scores show how students fared on key tests, graduation rates and academic growth. The changes have been implemented in order to more closely match the grading systems used in other states.

Felecia Gomez-Walker, superintendent of St. Charles Parish Public Schools, said the change is a significant one in terms of how the grades of a district or school’s performance is calculated.

She said the St. Charles school district believes in having high standards in place and that the new system is indeed based on more rigorous criteria, but added the more difficult parameters may cause the letter grades for a number of school districts to fall, and that if or when that happens, it could be misinterpreted by the public, with many parents possibly unaware that the grading formula has shifted at all.

“It may misrepresent a school or district’s performance score from one year to the next,” Gomez-Walker said. “Although such drops may be attributable to the changes in the letter grading system, the public may perceive this as a decrease in the overall academic achievement of its schools.”

St. Charles Parish has long maintained a rating as an “A” graded school district, and the parish was recently ranked as Louisiana’s top school district by the website Niche.

The new system was approved last year by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education by an 8-3 vote, but the debate on the topic was reportedly lengthy and opinions on the measure are still divided. State figures estimate the number of “F” rated public schools are expected to rise 57 percent this year, while those with “A” ratings are expected to drop 38 percent.

Supporters have cited the new requirements will create a more accurate and less inflated view of Louisiana students’ performance; concerns raised by critics include potential backlash from parents who suddenly see a grade decline and the added stress upon educators to keep up if the requirements were raised too quickly.

One example of the changes noted by Gomez-Walker comes in how LEAP testing is assessed. Performance at the mastery level previously earned a score of 125 points toward the school district’s rating scale. Under the new formula, mastery now earns a score of 100 points.

The changes also affect how ACT scores are calculated at the high school level. A composite score of 21 now earns 100 points toward the district rating; previously, a score of 18 earned 100 points. An 18 would now earn 70 points.

“These and other changes may cause a drop in the letter grades for many school districts,” said Assistant Superintendent A.J. Pethe.

Gomez-Walker has faith that the community in St. Charles Parish will be understanding if the school district’s grade were to decline as result of the new scale.

“The teachers, parents, and community of St. Charles Parish Public Schools know our school system is more than a letter grade. The school district has earned the trust of its stakeholders to provide a high-quality education for its students,” Gomez-Walker said. “St. Charles Parish Public Schools is committed to high standards and equitable opportunities for all students and the new letter grading system will not impact this belief system.”

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