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Louisiana adopts tougher grading system for K-12 schools

Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley speaking at the state's school safety summit in June 2023.
Louisiana Department of Education
Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley speaking at the state's school safety summit in June 2023.

State officials have approved major changes to the system for evaluating annual performance of K-12 schools, a move that some district leaders warn will lead to lower rankings and fewer workforce training opportunities for high schoolers.

Members of the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted on Wednesday to move forward with updates to the state’s school accountability program, which helps the board measure academic performance and awards each school a letter grade between A and F each year.

Supporters of the change, including Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley, say the current system sets a low bar for students and lacks transparency.

“Only about a third of students in the state of Louisiana are graduating proficient in core subject areas,” Brumley said ahead of Tuesday’s committee vote. “It’s time now to raise that bar.”

While many education leaders have applauded the effort to reform the decades-old system, some school leaders have pushed back on the change. Under the current rating system, around 67% of schools get A or B grades from the state. But that’s expected to drop to around 30% under the new system, according to BESE estimates.

That’s because the new grading formula, especially for high schools, gives more weight to students’ test scores on state exams in algebra, biology and history. But rather than focusing narrowly on test scores, many schools have poured more resources into improving graduation rates, job training and college readiness tests like the ACT in recent years, said St. Bernard Parish Public Schools Superintendent Doris Voitier.

“This particular formula, or new accountability proposal, deemphasizes that work,” Voitier said.

The state’s grading changes are expected to take effect in 2026. BESE will utilize data from 2024 to calculate the new cutoff points for each letter grade, according to Brumley.

“School systems will have to adapt and adjust in the ways in which they serve students in key areas like algebra, geometry, biology, civics and English,” he said. “But I think at the end of the day, we'll have students graduating high school with more proficiency.”

The updates represent one of the largest policy changes approved by the current BESE board, which took office earlier this year. It’s the second time Brumley has tried to revamp the state’s ranking system since taking office in 2020.

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