Common Core delay helps parish schools

Published 12:46 am Monday, December 9, 2013

VIDALIA — Decisions made by Louisiana’s top school board last week to delay a shift to more rigorous educational standards will ultimately help Concordia Parish teachers and students, Superintendent Paul Nelson said.

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday overwhelmingly supported changes pushed by Superintendent of Education John White to give schools, teachers and students time to adjust in the transition to the Common Core standards.

The standards are a set of expectations 45 states have adopted that seek to outline what students should know by a certain grade level and implement those standards in all participating states.

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The delay approved last week deals with public school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion, with White saying those things won’t be affected by the shift to the standards for another two years.

Louisiana adopted the standards three years ago, and critics have said the transition to the standards in Louisiana has happened with too little guidance, training and funding.

Louisiana’s accountability system for public schools assigns letter grades to schools and districts based on student performance on standardized tests and other measures. Those grades determine if a school can be taken over by the state for poor performance or if students are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools instead. Student performance on standardized tests is also used to calculate some teacher evaluations.

The gravity of consequences for poor performance has heightened concerns about the state’s phase-in of the more rigorous Common Core standards, grade-by-grade benchmarks adopted by most states of what students should learn in reading, writing and math.

Under the plan backed by the education board, the state’s accountability standards — including the grading of students, schools and teachers — will be raised to match the Common Core in 2015, with a slow adjustment to toughen the school grades set to phase in through 2025.

“I think that’s a positive step and will relieve some pressure and tension on some teachers that are already struggling,” Nelson said. “Some grades are more difficult when we’re talking about making this transition, and this helps bring those folks out from under the microscope.”

Nelson said, however, he would have liked the board to go a step further and entertain an idea proposed by several state superintendents to not issue a letter grade, but instead label schools as “T” for transition.

“The grades give a school a negative connotation based on how people will view a school,” Nelson said. “But when you have a school making all these curriculum standards, it’s a little different.”

The board approved the following at last week’s meeting:

4Public schools will be graded on a curve in 2014 and 2015.

4The new standardized tests planned for 2015 won’t apply to high school students.

4Teachers won’t be judged based on growth in student achievement on standardized tests for 2014 and 2015.

Local school districts can give promotion waivers in 2014 and 2015 to fourth graders and eighth graders even if they don’t pass the standardized tests that usually determine if they can advance to the next grade.

Nelson said another positive change approved last week was a statewide waiver for a graduation requirement that necessitated all seniors graduating in May have an area of concentration with their diploma.

Nelson described the area of concentration similar to a major in college, with students taking six classes in one particular cluster that applied to the career path they would continue to study in college.

“We felt like we were going to be in pretty good shape based on conversations with principals and counselors, but other districts seemed to be struggling with it a lot,” Nelson said. “The waiver will give us more time, though, to figure out some little things, like what to do if a senior transfers in after Christmas and they don’t have an area of concentration.”

Nelson, who attended the board meetings in Baton Rouge Tuesday and Wednesday, said overall he’s been pleased with what appears to be more of an concentrated effort to listen to school districts around the state about their experiences.

“It’s a change from where we were a year ago where it seemed like we didn’t want to hear from any local districts and anytime you posed a question or suggestion you were going against the status quo,” Nelson said. “I haven’t talked with anyone from our staff that has been against Common Core standards because the idea is great.

“It’s just a question of how do we get there and why is it that we need to get there overnight?”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.