LETTER: PAR: Keep 8th grade standards

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

Currently, an eighth-grade student in Louisiana must score at least at the Basic level in either English/Language Arts or Mathematics on the LEAP test and at the Approaching Basic level in the other area to be promoted to the ninth grade. Two bills being considered by the Legislature would lower that standard for overage eighth-graders.

PAR believes strongly that would be a step backward from the progress the state has made in improving academic performance among K-12 students.

HB 612, which is awaiting a vote in the House, and SB 259, which was passed unanimously by the Senate, would create a career option in Louisiana’s high schools in an effort to shrink the state’s dropout rate. Under both measures, school districts would offer an academic major consisting of college preparatory courses and a career major consisting of academic and vocational courses. 

To pursue the career major option in high school, an eighth-grader would have to fulfill one of two requirements: meet the existing standards for promotion to the ninth grade as described above, or score at least Approaching Basic in either English/Language Arts or Mathematics and be at least age 15 or turning 15 in the upcoming school year.

The minimum achievement level for the other area is not specified, which means it could be Unsatisfactory. 

The LEAP test outlines five levels of achievement—Advanced, Mastery, Basic, Approaching Basic and Unsatisfactory. At the Basic level, a student has the fundamental knowledge and skills needed for the next level of school. At Approaching Basic, a student has only partially demonstrated the knowledge and skills necessary to move on to the next grade, and at Unsatisfactory, a student has not mastered the fundamental knowledge and skills needed for the next grade.

The career major track would require students to learn a significant amount of material and skills related to their chosen career field. If a student has not mastered the fundamental knowledge and skills necessary to move up to the ninth grade, it is hard to see how he or she would succeed in earning any high school diploma—career major or otherwise—or how he or she would succeed in the job market.

PAR historically has championed rigorous accountability standards, believing that Louisiana should demand more of its students, not less. The slow but steady increase in test scores over the past decade shows the higher standards are working.

These bills are an attempt to improve the state high school dropout rate, but eighth- graders who enter high school without being able to pass a test of basic skills in math and English likely would not be able to graduate even with a career major high school curriculum. The current eighth-grade promotion standards should remain in place. To lower them now would simply obscure the problem of overage eighth-graders anddelay the development of real solutions that would find a way to educate the students the current system allows to fall through the cracks.