Louisiana board stalls literacy-based accountability system

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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley speaks during a news conference at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top public school policymakers Tuesday spurned a push from Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley to move ahead with creation of a literacy-focused accountability system for the state’s youngest learners.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-4 to stall a decision on the new K-2 accountability system until at least October, with a majority of board members suggesting they wanted more details about how the plans would work.

The divided board disagreed about the impact of the delay.

Board member Jim Garvey of Metairie said the education department can continue developing the new system and proceed with ongoing pilot programs, while also working on specifics and discussing possible changes to student performance measurements in other grades.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley speaks during a news conference at the Knock Knock Children’s Museum, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)

“We would like to see how this would fit in with the whole accountability system,” he said.

But board member Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard Parish Schools, said it doesn’t make sense to move ahead with educator training and development of a K-2 accountability system that could be upended later.

“If they go forward and we change the rubric, then that will be meaningless,” she said.

Brumley expressed frustration with the decision, saying Louisiana needs a prioritized focus on reading skills for its youngest students. He said while he realized the plans needed more work, there would be more regulatory steps for the education board to weigh in about the shape of the new accountability system.

“We’re missing an opportunity to make generational change,” he told the board. “I certainly do not advocate for delay.”

The superintendent pointed to data that shows only 40% of kindergartners read on grade level and that ranks Louisiana poorly among states for student performance on a national reading test for fourth-graders.

“It’s very clear in K-2 we have a void, we have a vacuum,” Brumley said.

Louisiana decades ago enacted a standardized testing program and school evaluation system for grades three through 12.

Brumley’s proposal involves defining metrics to measure performance for the state’s youngest students, phased in through pilot programs and fully implemented by the 2023-24 school year. Students in kindergarten through second grade would be given a literacy test to identify their needs, chart their progress and measure teaching quality.

The broad concept has the backing of organizations representing Louisiana’s public school boards, district superintendents and charter schools. Representatives of each group urged the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to move ahead with the plan.

“We cannot delay this any further. Our state already has been negligent in addressing this,” said Mike Faulk, executive director of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.

But school choice advocacy groups urged postponement of a board decision, saying the plan needs more details about how it would impact special education students and students in the state’s voucher program that uses taxpayer dollars to send children to private schools.

“We think that the framework that has been brought forward is missing some very serious components,” said Brigitte Nieland, with the advocacy group Stand for Children Louisiana.

Tuesday’s vote was held by a committee of the 11-member education board, but all members were present for the discussion. Only one member, committee Chairman Ronnie Morris, didn’t vote on the issue.

Voting for delay were Garvey, board President Sandy Holloway and board members Holly Boffy, Ashley Ellis, Michael Melerine and Kira Orange Jones. Voting against the delay were Voitier and board members Preston Castille, Belinda Davis and Thomas Roque.

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