Letter: Be patient in raising the bar

In 2010, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education committed to the idea that Louisiana’s children deserve to be taught to expectations as high as any in our country. They joined with 43 other states in setting common minimum expectations in reading, writing and mathematics for public school children.

They then joined with 16 other states to create a test that would allow Louisiana to see how well it stacks up against the top states in the nation in achieving these new expectations.

In 2012, the Legislature joined Gov. Jindal and BESE by passing HB707, calling for nationally competitive standards and tests.

As often happens with ambitious projects, realities set in along the way. Publishers were slow to adjust textbooks. Teachers in some parishes received training earlier and more often than in others.

Politics also set in. Gov. Jindal recently joined with those on the extreme left and the extreme right in opposing common expectations and competitive tests. While he has offered no alternative plans, he has called on the Legislature to address unspecified “concerns.”

In response, a group of pragmatic Democrats and Republicans have joined with me to author HB953, a plan to immediately implement the expectations and tests, while making sure we do things right in the process.

Doing things right means understanding how well our students are performing today before we set targets to which our schools and teachers will be accountable in the future. That is why HB953 requires two years of student results on new tests before establishing performance expectations to which we will hold schools and teachers.

Over the course of 2015 and 2016, until two years of “baseline” results are established, the state will not require the use of test data in evaluating teachers and administrators. School and district letter-grade ratings will be awarded on a curved basis, so we will not see an unfair drop in school ratings.

Furthermore, the lowest-rated schools will gain academic support plans to help them meet the new bar.

Starting in 2016, the state will gradually raise the bar for schools each year for 10 years. By 2025, students in an A-rated school in Louisiana will have an average performance worthy of the top school systems in America.

Gov. Jindal has asked the Legislature to act. Legislators from both sides of the aisle support HB953 because it achieves both high expectations for students and patient implementation in our schools.

I urge the governor, BESE and all of my colleagues in the Legislature to support this plan and to stay the course on the historic effort to raise the bar for Louisiana’s children.

Walter J. Leger III

speaker pro tempore Louisiana House of Representatives

New Orleans