Louisiana discusses whether to scrap 2021 school letter grades after LEAP scores take a nosedive

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After student scores on standardized tests plummeted during the coronavirus pandemic, some Louisiana education leaders are calling to scrap this year’s letter grades for K-12 public schools, a key benchmark in the state’s accountability system.

The letter grades are typically announced in November and are aimed at showing taxpayers how schools are performing. But scores on the LEAP 2025 standardized exams — which test students in math, English, science and social studies — took a nosedive that affected virtually every school system in the state.

On Thursday, the Louisiana Department of Education claimed that in-person learning led to better LEAP scores than virtual learning.

The Advocate reports that’s renewing the calls to avoid public school letter grades that could be heavily affected by the falling LEAP scores. Shelving the grades, however, would require the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to request an accountability waiver from the U.S. Department of Education.

“This is a conversation to be had with board members and the state superintendent,” board President Sandy Holloway told the newspaper.

The education board’s next meeting will be Aug. 17-18.

Annual letter grades for both schools and school districts, which are part of a push to improve student achievement, have sparked controversy for years. Backers contend they offer an easy-to-understand way for parents and students to see how classrooms are performing. Critics say test scores, which make up the bulk of the grades, are part of a flawed evaluation method that produces misleading results.

Prior to the restart of the testing, however, the state still hadn’t figured out how the LEAP test results would be used to assign letter grades to schools.

Groups that have long criticized the school grades said a waiver of the public school grading makes sense after an unprecedented school year repeatedly disrupted by the pandemic.

Janet Pope, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, said Louisiana is one of just six states that has not sought an accountability waiver from the federal government.

“We are not putting letter grades on hospitals when they lose patients,” Pope told The Advocate. “We are not putting letter grades on courts because they are not having court sessions.”

But in June, the Caddo Parish School board announced a plan to help students achieve higher scores on the standardized testing.

Cynthia Posey, director of legislative and political affairs for the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, noted that schools were open here during the 2020-21 academic year when they remained closed in many states.

“Is it really fair to grade students and penalize them when they faced unprecedented challenges?” Posey asked.

But other organizations that track education issues want the letter grades to be issued.

“Parents and communities deserve to know how their schools are performing, especially during these challenging times,” said Daniel Esparmer, president and CEO of the right-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy.

Lauren Gleason, director of education and workforce development for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said “some considerations might need to be made” in the letter grades.

But she added: “It is vital for information to be made available in a way that is very clear for parents and families to understand so that they can make the best decisions to get our kids back on track.”

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