Red State Officials Are Floating Ways For Failing Students To Get Diplomas. Experts Say It Raises ‘A Big Red Flag’

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  • A Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) proposal would grant diplomas to high school students who fail key standardized tests by allowing them to complete a portfolio of work related to the subjects they failed as well workplace competency exams.
  • Education experts are worried the proposal will reduce the quality of education in the state and reverse its educational progress, they said in interviews with the Daily Caller News Foundation.
  •  “A big red flag for this policy is that if it were to go into rule, there is no incentive or requirement for a student to ever retake the test ever,” vice president for Policy & Strategy of the Pelican Institute, Erin Bendily, told the DCNF. 

Louisiana’s top education board is suggesting a proposal to make it easier for students who failed critical standardized tests to receive a high school diploma, which would lower educational standards in the state, education experts told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (BESE) proposed policy would allow for students to complete a portfolio of work related to the subjects they failed and workplace competency tests, instead of passing standardized state tests, according to the proposal. The proposal effectively functions as a “universal waiver” and would only benefit schools, not students, the experts told the DCNF.

Policymakers in the Louisiana education space initially floated the policy proposal based on discussions about students in the school system who came from foreign countries and struggled with English proficiency, as well as dyslexic students, but it has transformed into something different, Erin Bendily, vice president for Policy & Strategy of the Pelican Institute told the DCNF. (RELATED: Universities Consider New Rankings To Skirt SCOTUS Ruling On Race-Based Admissions)

“It’s evolved into a universal waiver policy,” Bendily told the DCNF. “A big red flag for this policy is that if it were to go into rule, there is no incentive or requirement for a student to ever retake the test ever.”

The policy was proposed to address the issue of failing foreign students who lacked fluent English proficiency, BESE told the DCNF.

“These students otherwise have attained the academic progress necessary for graduation, but the testing process itself has become an obstacle preventing some students from demonstrating the proficiency they have achieved,” BESE President Dr. Holly Boffy wrote in an opinion piece for the Daily Advertiser.

The policy proposes that if students don’t achieve high enough scores on their state standardized tests in high school, they can complete a series of requirements related to workplace proficiency and alternative tests linked to workplace skills, according to a BESE blog post.

Bendily criticized these requirements, saying the portfolio was a subjective instrument and that objective tests are a better measurement of what students should be learning in school. She also expressed concern that Louisiana’s measurement system for student graduation would be affected by this policy, saying it would allow for Louisiana to count the students who had completed these requirements as graduates in the official data while degrading the quality of education.

“This will serve schools, not students,” Bendily told the DCNF.

“We need to focus on improving outcomes rather than waiving standards. The testing requirement is a minimum academic standard that high school students should be able to meet. We will never climb off the bottom of educational rankings by lowering our expectations,” Republican Louisiana gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Richard Nelson told the DCNF.

NEW ORLEANS, LA – The Energizer Bunny steps into a 6th and 7th grade music classroom during the presentation of a $30,000 “Now That’s Positivenergy” grant from Energizer and VH1 Save The Music Foundation at the Joseph A. Craig School in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Skip Bolen/Getty Images)

“It began with a group of advocates rightfully concerned about English language learners and graduation outcomes for English language learners,” Cade Brumley, Louisiana state superintendent of Education, told the DCNF. Then it turned into all students being able to appeal their graduation requirements.

“It doesn’t do anyone a favor in our state to lower standards,” Brumley told the DCNF.

The 2022 Nation’s Report Card showed that Louisiana improved its educational outcomes in recent years, with the state moving from 46th to 42nd, according to the Advocate. Brumley worried this policy policy may reverse that progress. (RELATED: DCNF Reporter Reveals Upcoming Policy Changes To Schools Across America)

Normally the state superintendent would be involved in the process for policy proposals such as this one, but Brumley abstained due to disapproval of the policy.

Some schools and universities around the country are ditching standardized tests in favor of other measures. The American Bar Association will attempt to pass a measure in August that would allow law schools to admit students without a standardized test score. The University of California board of regents voted to get rid of standardized test scores in university admissions in 2020.

“We did not believe it was an appropriate action to take,” Brumley told the DCNF.

Republican Louisiana Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Jeff Landry and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shawn Wilson did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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