Sen. Kennedy calls for Louisiana to create new way to grade schools accurately and fairly

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy waded into the debate on changing Louisiana's school accountability system on Monday, speaking to the U.S. Senate about the need for a "new methodology to try to grade our schools."

Over the last several months, Louisiana's education leaders have gone back and forth about potential changes to the District and School Performance Score formula, which the state uses to grade schools and districts with letter grades. A number of officials — including Kennedy — have been critical of the number of high schools that are graded as A's and B's across the state.

“But here's the problem: 41 percent of our elementary and middle schools get A's and B's. I think that's probably pretty accurate," Kennedy said. "We’re going to get that number up, those grades up. But about 41 percent of our elementary and middle schools grade A or B. Seventy percent of our high schools grade A or B. Something's not meshing here. I wish I could say that 70 percent of our high schools were A and B schools, but we all know in Louisiana that they are not."

In 2022, 62 high schools were given an A grade and 60 were given a B, accounting for around 68.9% of 177 high schools, excluding alternative schools. That percentage is down from 2019 — the last year before 2022 with official scores due to COVID — when around 71% of high schools scored an A or B.

In total, around 46.9% of Louisiana schools scored an A or B in 2022. In 2019, that percentage was around 48.7%.

Louisiana schools get a B in 2022, match pre-pandemic scores

Louisiana's Board of Elementary and Secondary Education spent much of the past year looking into potential changes to the accountability structure. Ultimately, several sweeping changes were brought before the board's Academic Goals & Instructional Improvement Committee in October 2022.

The changes were met with heavy — and nearly universal — criticism from the state's public school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers. One of the changes involved lowering the point value awarded to a school for a student getting a high school diploma without passing an Advanced Placement course and test or taking a certain number of dual enrollment classes.

At one point, the committee considered awarding no points to a school for a high school diploma alone, the same as if the student had dropped out of high school.

Critics also pointed out that the proposed system would have valued AP courses more than dual enrollment. Dual enrollment courses, which give a student college course credit at the same time as the high school credit, have gained popularity in recent years as a way to make college less expensive.

AP courses can also take the place of some college courses, but the student has to take a test to determine whether they will get credit and what courses it will replace. Different colleges have different standards and requirements for AP tests.

Representatives from rural school districts said the emphasis on dual enrollment would also put them at a disadvantage, as they don't often have teachers qualified to teach the college courses or have an easily-accessible community college.

After hours of pushback from education leaders, the committee tabled the changes until a November 2022 meeting, when they were ultimately shot down.

Louisiana traditional public and charter schools lost 30,000 students since COVID

But BESE has continued to look at potential changes. At the Academic Goals & Instructional Improvement Committee meeting in January, it looked at commissioning an outside group to review the accountability system and make suggestions by December, which may put any large changes on hold until the end of 2023.

Kennedy, a Republican who announced in early January that he would not be running for governor, also praised the efforts of former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer on education reform. Roemer, who served as governor from 1988 to 1992, died in 2021.

"Let's look reality in the eye and accept the fact that our parents deserve to know the quality of school that their kids are attending," Kennedy said. "And let's come up with a new system that is accurate but that is fair to everybody. And let's stop blaming people and regretting yesterday and start creating tomorrow."

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This article originally appeared on Lafayette Daily Advertiser: Sen. Kennedy calls for Louisiana to change how it grades school