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BESE Decision

State school board upholds graduation requirements
Saturday, May 7, 2022

Unlike last year, high school seniors in Louisiana who haven’t met certain minimum scores on their LEAP tests won’t be given alternative ways to qualify for graduation.

On Thursday the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education denied a waiver that would have nullified end-of-course test requirements for graduation because of the effects COVID-19 had on three of this Class of 2022’s four years in high school.

Students must have scored at least “approaching basic” — the second to lowest level out of five — on their LEAP tests in certain core subjects in order to graduate in Louisiana.

The requested waiver would have instead allowed seniors to graduate if they scored at least a 17 on the ACT as a whole or at least a 17 on the specific subjects for which they lack LEAP scores.

A similar measure was approved for last year’s senior class.

BESE voted 5-3 in favor of the waiver, but it needed six votes to pass the 11-member board. Three members were absent for the special meeting, including Ashley Ellis, whose district includes Lincoln Parish.

Lincoln Parish Schools Superintendent Ricky Durrett said while he did not oppose the waiver, it would have little effect on the local district, as less than five students are ineligible to graduate because of their test scores.

Statewide that number of affected students is about 2,400.

Durrett said the low number in Lincoln Parish is a testament to the work teachers and administrators have done to remediate the learning loss that the shutdowns and distance learning of COVID may have caused.

“Our teachers have worked really hard to try to catch up kids who have missed because of COVID over the past couple years,” he said. “That goes all the way to elementary as well, where we’re getting as many kids as possible back up to reading on grade level.”

BESE member Holly Boffy asked the board for the waiver because she believes there are work-ready students who won’t be able to contribute to society without their diploma.

“I think we have potential taxpayers who need a sheet of paper to open up that door for them,” Boffy said. “Our communities need workers. They don’t need test takers.”

BESE member Doris Voitier emphasized the extenuating circumstances COVID irregularities caused.

“These kids have been operating under a handicap these past three years,” Voitier said. “An academic handicap, social handicap, emotional handicap. All of that together are contributing factors.”

Member Sandy Holloway said the request is too last-minute with graduations about to take place.

“We have no data, and there has been no discussion about this,” she said.

She said she’d rather let individual school districts apply for the waiver rather than granting it statewide all at once.

Members of the public gave comment for about two hours. Some feared the waiver would dilute the meaning of a diploma.

“An ACT score of 17 does not represent a commitment to academic excellence,” said Caleb Moore with the American Federation for Children.

“We should be focusing on bringing these kids up, not our expectations down.”