Last Modified: Saturday, July 05, 2014 3:52 PM
BATON ROUGE — Students head back to Louisiana’s public schools in fewer than six weeks, with no decision made about what standardized tests third-graders through eighth-graders will take in the spring to measure their learning.
A dispute between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state’s top education leaders over the use of tests tied to the Common Core standards has left testing plans stalled.
The upheaval began when Jindal suspended a contract that Education Superintendent John White intended to use to buy testing material that goes with Common Core, as a way to derail use of the standards.
But lawmakers and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education have voted to maintain Common Core, adopted by more than 40 states. The English and math standards are supposed to be fully phased into Louisiana’s classrooms and testing by the upcoming year.
“With the governor’s executive orders, we don’t really know how to move forward with any plan,” White told state education board members.
A special BESE meeting earlier this week didn’t end the impasse. The board voted to hire contract lawyers, delayed a discussion of whether to sue the governor and told White to try to negotiate a solution with Jindal directly.
Supporters of Common Core say the standards promote critical thinking and raise expectations for students. Jindal says the federal government is trying to use Common Core to control local curriculum and educational systems.
Common Core critics sought to keep Louisiana using its own state-developed standardized tests known as LEAP and iLEAP.
“It would be a disservice to the 700,000 public school students we have in this state to not have a plan when we leave today to at least bridge the gap,” said board member Jane Smith, a Jindal appointee.
But that failed to gain enough support from BESE members.
Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said White’s education department violated state procurement laws in moving to the Common Core-tied standardized tests without a new contract. She said the department must seek competitive bids.
But Nichols said it appeared the department’s current testing contract would allow for continued use of LEAP and iLEAP testing in the upcoming school year.
White said keeping the old test wouldn’t work.
He said the previous year’s test questions have been shared with the public and can’t be reused. He said developing and testing new questions for six grades at once would cost $3 million, and he said he wasn’t sure that could be done in time to administer tests in the spring.
“That doesn’t strike me as a recipe for success for teachers,” White said.
Smith objected to White’s claims that using the old test was impossible.
“Do you really think a fourth-grader memorized the questions and went out and told his little brother?” she said.
White also said a state-specific test would run afoul of a Louisiana law that requires the upcoming year’s tests to be scored against results in other states.
He urged BESE to file a lawsuit to seek clarity about who’s in charge of determining what standardized tests will be used, but board members wanted compromise attempts first. Jindal and White are supposed to sit-down for a meeting within the next two weeks.
Board member Lottie Beebe, a Common Core critic, said a lawsuit wouldn’t be helpful and could stretch out for months.
“We need a definitive response to give our educators,” she said.
BESE President Chas Roemer, a Common Core supporter, said Jindal created the problem by trying to disrupt education policies set by the education board and lawmakers.
“This chaos was not created by this board or this superintendent,” Roemer said.