BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's top school board has voted to make more than 1,400 students eligible for waivers from traditional high school graduation rules.
The policy approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education without discussion came at the end of a three-hour meeting last week, The Advocate reported.
The issue was whether BESE should grant waivers for about 2,400 students statewide because of hardships sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. That effort failed.
BESE was then set to consider a request for a similar waiver because of Hurricane Ida from the superintendent of Terrebonne Parish, which suffered huge damages when the Category 4 storm landed Aug. 29. BESE member Doris Voitier, who is also superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish school system, amended the motion to include all 25 parishes listed in Gov. John Bel Edwards’ disaster declaration.
The motion won approval 7-0.
That means 59% of the 1,414 students who were not in line to get high school diplomas last week now have new options for getting one, including through a composite score of 17 on the ACT, which is supposed to measure college readiness, or a 17 on the subject that blocked their graduation through the traditional route.
A score of 17 on the ACT, which carries a top mark of 36, is well below the benchmarks set by the testing organization for college success.
Critics who objected to the statewide waiver renewed their criticism of the latest policy.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said BESE’s decision amounts to lowering expectations for students.
“This motion to waive graduation requirements for roughly 1,400 eligible seniors is not doing these students any favors,” Waguespack said in a statement. “Rather, it sets them off to college or career options lacking the skills necessary to succeed. They deserve better.”
Most students who would benefit from the waiver failed to pass end-of-course exams in U.S. history, biology and other subjects. They are supposed to earn passing marks on English I or English 2; algebra I or geometry and biology or U. S. history.
Backers of the waiver argued that struggling students were entitled to leniency because of unprecedented pandemic disruptions that began in March 2020.
Critics said students only have to achieve the fourth of five achievement levels – called approaching basic – and had multiple chances to do so during their high school career.
Daniel J. Erspamer, chief executive officer for the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, criticized the board's move.
“We won’t improve our lagging educational outcomes by further watering down our already weak existing standards while expecting students to graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful,” Erspamer said in a statement.
Students missed between one and 34 days because of the hurricane. Students in nine of the 25 affected parishes missed five days or less.