A new elementary school, funded with federal, state and local money, will be built adjacent to Fort Polk. The new, $20 million South Polk Elementary School will be built along La. 467, two miles north of the current school. (mgnonline.com)
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 6:19 PM
About a quarter of schools in the voucher program for the upcoming school year will be rated on a scale similar to that of public schools and could face consequences if students’ test scores are not high enough, State Superintendent John White said Monday.
White and the state Department of Education released the specifics of an accountability system for voucher schools, creating a rating system for students at the larger nonpublic schools and setting penalties for low-performing schools.
All voucher students in grades 3-11 will take the state’s standardized tests, and the scores will be reported publicly.
Voucher schools with an average of more than 10 participating students per grade level and at least 40 students enrolled in tested grades will have their scores factored into the new “Scholarship Cohort Index,” a rating system similar to the School Performance Score for public schools.
Voucher schools with fewer than 10 participating students per grade or fewer than 40 students in tested grades will still have to report their scores publicly, but will not be given an index rating. White said these schools would not have enough data to base the scores on.
“One class of kids on which you are then measuring a school’s performance is too low,” he said.
The index is on a scale of 150. Any score below 50 will be considered failing.
“This score is not indicating the quality of a whole school; it’s indicating the successes or failures of a program the school runs,” White said. “What we’re saying is that a 50 is where consequences begin for those schools.”
After two years in the voucher program, schools with a failing score won’t be able to enroll new voucher students until they improve their scores. Voucher students in these schools will have priority admission to another participating school.
If the voucher school has scored below 50 for most years in a four-year period, the school will not be able to enroll new students until it achieves a score greater than 50 and is given a satisfactory quality review by the state.
However, the accountability system includes a special provision for the state superintendent to waive both provisions if new enrollees would be enrolled in public schools performing at lower levels than the participating school or if the school has improved by more than 15 points over the past four years.
White said that although only a quarter of the participating schools meet the Scholarship Cohort Index threshold for the first year, he expects to have more than half the state’s voucher schools qualify within four years.
He said the small number for the first year can be attributed to the large number of seats for non-testing grades at most voucher schools.
The accountability system also says the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is responsible for making sure participating schools have a curriculum that is “at least equal to” similar public schools.
Several of the voucher schools, including Westlake’s Eternity Christian Academy, have faced national criticism for their use of the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, which uses the Loch Ness monster as an argument against evolution in a biology textbook.
White defended these schools, saying it was up to the parents to choose the curriculum that is right for them, but added, “If the school lacks basic academic competence, the department may intervene to end participation.”
White said BESE will conduct periodic reviews of the schools to ensure this standard.
BESE will vote today to approve or deny the new accountability standards.
The final numbers of students accepted at each voucher school are expected within the next two weeks.