Louisiana’s Senate Bill No. 259 will create a high school career options program, giving students the option to pursue an “academic major” consisting mainly of core academic, college preparatory coursework, or a “career major” consisting of “academic courses and modern vocational studies.” Additionally, the new law will relax state testing standards for promotion to the 9th grade for students who will pursue a career major in high school. Currently, state testing standards require 8th graders to score at “basic competency” on either the English or mathematics portion of the LEAP Test (Louisiana Educational Assessment Program). That’s not a typo, I said either English or mathematics. Senate Bill No. 259 relaxes that standard and will allow prospective high school “career majors” to be promoted to the 9th grade if they score “approaching basic competency” in either English or mathematics.

Let me make this clear, testing standards in Louisiana presently say that students can go to 9th grade if they can do math and almost read, or they can read and almost do math. Senate Bill No. 259 will lower those pseudo standards even further to say that students can go to 9th grade if they can almost read but can’t count, or if they can use a calculator but may not be able to read a restaurant menu. The bill has already made its way through both chambers of the legislature and is on its way to Gov. Bobby Jindal who has said through a spokesperson that he will sign the bill.

Proponents of the bill defend it as a step toward lowering the state’s high school dropout rate (currently about 35%). However, critics including the State Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek, contend that relaxing promotion standards for 8th graders is a step in the wrong direction for a state that has made progress in raising education standards. Additionally, I am greatly concerned about the message that we send by lowering educational standards that are already too low. If minimum basic standards can be lowered at will then they aren’t truly standards; they’re meaningless, no more than an educational game that we’re playing. In one breath we say to children that proficiency at X level in reading and mathematics is the minimum that you will need to be prepared for what lies ahead of you. But then in the next breath we say, well it’s okay if you don’t have these skills, we’ll send you on anyway.

Lawmakers are absolutely right that something must be done about the high rate of high school dropouts, but what they propose will not fix the problem. At best it might mask it. A high dropout rate is not the problem. Dropouts are only indicators of the problem. The problem is that too many children are not learning and lowering standards will not in anyway help them to learn. Whether you keep a student in 8th grade or send him to 9th grade, if he doesn’t have basic skills he still won’t be able to read. He still won’t be able to compute. Lowering standards for children does not help them, it does more academic and emotional harm by telling them that nobody expects them to achieve. The answer is not lowering standards, it’s maintaining them, eventually raising them, and seeing to it that children reach them.

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