Louisiana Superintendents Leader Considers Local Accountability Plan

By Daarel Burnette II — February 24, 2017 3 min read
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Unhappy with your state’s proposed accountability system under the Every Students Succeeds Act?

Create your own.

That’s the strategy members of a Louisiana group of superintendents are considering taking after butting heads with their state leaders over the state’s letter-grade system for rating schools, which they say puts the current A-F accountability system “on steroids.” The superintendents fear the proposed system currently in draft form will increase teachers’ focus on state tests and oversimplify school performance.

Accountability systems, the most visible part of states’ ESSA accountability plans, increasingly are becoming the center of debate as the first deadline for turning in those plans arrives April 3.

West Feliciana Superintendent Hollis Milton, who is chairman of an influential group of state superintendents that advises the state board, told me a consultant he’s worked with found a clause in ESSA that allows local districts to implement their own accountability system, though he didn’t specify what part of the law he was referring to.

The language of ESSA says explicitly that states must create statewide accountability systems that apply to all of their districts. But the department in the past has given waivers to groups of districts to create their own accountability system and some states under No Child Left Behind have operated two congruent accountability systems (one state-approved and one federally-approved). We’ve reached out to the Department of Education for guidance on this but they have not yet responded.

Milton said he has also found a legislator who will sponsor a bill to allow a local accountability system “later this spring,” and says he has talked to Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards about it, saying Edwards told him, “it makes sense.”

Milton also said several superintendents in the state back his idea.

What’s unclear—and what Milton said he hasn’t figured out yet—is if the local accountability system would trump the state’s or if it would run congruent with the state’s accountability system.

“I would like to work in partnership [with the state’s accountability system], but I sense that [a separate accountability system] would look like a threat to (Superintendent White),” Milton said.

Milton said he wants to create an accountability plan that’s based on a “nationally normative” test (such as NAEP, or the ACT or SAT) rather than the state’s standardized test and will allow districts to pick their own indicators to measure school quality. The state currently uses a test that blends questions from PARCC and its own Louisiana Educational Assessment Program. Its proposed accountability plan under ESSA is based mostly on student proficiency and growth scores from that test.

Proponents of A-F accountability systems say they force districts to focus more on achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students and lead to rapid improvement.

Louisiana is one of a handful of states where local officials have sparred with state officials over accountability systems.

A panel tasked by the governor on Wednesday, Feb. 23, voted to delay until September turning in the state’s ESSA plan. It’s not clear how that would impact the state board of education’s ESSA timeline.

In California, the state’s CORE districts got a federal waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act to implement their own accountability system, which uses a different set of indicators than the state’s accountability plan.

A few months ago, the CORE districts asked the state’s board if it could get a waiver from its state’s accountability system and “serve as a research pilot.”

Milton said he wasn’t aware of the CORE district’s initiative but said he’ll look into it.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.