CABL Believes New School Accountability Framework Is Big Step in the Right Direction

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley has unveiled a proposal for a new school and district accountability system for Louisiana schools. It represents a major change from what is in place now, but also a significant improvement.

Most people know we have an accountability system for our public schools and have seen stories about the letter grades we give them to measure how well they are doing. But probably, most folks don’t know much more than that.

Every state has an accountability system. They all have things in common, but they can also be profoundly different. A strong accountability system does multiple things. It gives parents and citizens a snapshot of how our schools are doing, evaluates how well various education policies are working, provides transparency so all students get attention, and offers incentives to encourage schools to continue to improve.

Louisiana’s school accountability system was among the first in the country when it was implemented in 1999. It has generally served the state well, clearly driving improvements in student performance, particularly over its first 10-15 years. But over time it has evolved. It has become more complicated and as a result that snapshot of how schools are performing has become somewhat blurred.

Now state education leaders are considering a major reform of our accountability system and CABL believes the proposal that was just released is a strong plan that will ultimately help our students and our schools.

One of its first goals was to simplify the program and it does that by focusing on just 12 measurements in three key areas.

The first area is growth. We know that too many of our students are not performing at the levels they need to be proficient, but does that necessarily mean they are in a failing school? The answer is no. Louisiana is a poor state and has a disproportionate number of students who enter kindergarten or first grade, sometimes one or two years behind where they should be just to get started.

If a school is able to move these kids up a grade level, they may still be behind where they need to be.  That doesn’t make the school a failure. This component of the new accountability system enhances rewards for schools that significantly improve the proficiency of their students.

The second goal is achievement. While we want to do all we can to grow our students, we also realize that we need to measure their performance to ensure they are achieving at levels that will lead to success throughout their school years and into life. This indicator rewards schools based on the percentage of students who have mastered the things they need to know in English, math, science, and social studies.

Finally, for our high schools, there is a measure for how prepared our students are to succeed in college and a career. It considers a school’s graduation rate and the performance of their students on a nationally-recognized assessment.  This could include the ACT or WorkKeys, a test designed for students who are on a career path rather than a university track.

It also awards more points for students who earn college credits, obtain a quality career credential, or participate in a meaningful internship or apprenticeship program before they graduate.

While this plan is much simpler than our current system, it is also more rigorous. That means it is certain to face opposition from local school districts who fear that their school and district letter grades may go down. That might be the case for some, but because of the added growth factor, many schools could just as easily see their scores improve.

That said, increasing expectations is a good thing. We have done that throughout the history of our school accountability system and experience has shown us that even though scores might dip initially, over time they tend to continue to rise.

Why? Because schools and districts adapt to the change. The areas where they get points are the areas where the system directs them to focus. They will do that and as they make changes, scores will improve. The key to success is making sure the focus of our accountability system is well-aligned to the outcomes that are important.

No system is perfect and one can always argue about what should be measured and by how much. But CABL believes this proposed update represents the right direction for our schools. It provides incentives for them to focus on growth, especially for their lowest performing students. It has a clear and clean measure of student proficiency. And in our high schools, it makes readiness for college or the workforce a strong priority.

Do critics raise some legitimate concerns about some parts of the plan? Probably. Can many of them be addressed as the proposal is finalized? They should.

But CABL believes these are the right goals and the proper areas of focus for where we stand today. We urge BESE to make whatever adjustments may be needed, and move forward with some sense of urgency to adopt this new model for the benefit of our students.

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