Judge lifts Jindal administration’s suspension of Common Core contracts

With high-stakes assessments of Louisiana fourth-graders slated for spring 2015, a state judge in Baton Rouge sided with Common Core advocates Tuesday and lifted the Jindal administration’s suspension of contracts for a key state test on which supporters of the new academic standards have been relying.

District Judge Todd Hernandez cautioned that the judicial branch should “rarely, if ever” enjoin the executive branch of government, but said the evidence he heard in the case Monday left him with no other choice.

“As it stands in Louisiana today, according to the law, students in the fourth grade will take some form of high-stakes leap test at the end of the 2014-2015 fourth-grade school year and each of these students must perform to a certain standard in order to be promoted to the next grade,” the judge wrote.

“However, the evidence presented at the hearing of this matter proves that the content of these assessment tests to be issued to these students as well as the materials needed for teachers to prepare these students for these tests are unknown; therefore, the evidence is clear that this state of the unknown has caused anxiety and other harm to the parents, teachers, administrators and students in Louisiana,” he said.

“Plaintiff’s harm is time and the loss thereof. The loss of time is irreparable. With each passing day teachers and parents lose time preparing students for high stake testing, and there is a lot riding on the student’s successful performance on these tests.”

Next up for the lawsuit filed last month by a group of parents, teachers and a charter school organization against Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Division of Administration and the state Office of Contractual Review is a full-blown trial on the merits of the suit. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education intervened in the suit on the side of the plaintiffs.

A trial date has not been set.

“We will request one quickly,” Jimmy Faircloth, who represents the governor in the case, said shortly after Hernandez issued his decision.

Kyle Plotkin, the governor’s chief of staff, said the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge will be asked to stay the judge’s ruling and also review and reverse it.

“We think this judge is wrong on the facts and the law. Hopefully, he will reconsider this preliminary ruling at the full trial,” Plotkin said.

But Stephen Kupperman, the lead plaintiffs’ attorney, said the judge’s ruling was “well rooted in the facts and evidence.”

“We think it is the right decision for the citizens of this state,” he added.

State Superintendent of Education John White has scheduled a news conference Wednesday morning to discuss the next steps in the case.

On Tuesday, White said Hernandez’s ruling allows teachers and students to continue raising expectations in Louisiana.

“It enables our state to set its aspirations high and to compete with states across the country. Our students are just as smart and capable as any in America,” he said. “We’ve been working for four years to teach them to the highest standards anywhere. Today’s ruling continues that progress.”

Plotkin accused Hernandez of taking the arguments from Common Core proponents “hook, line and sinker.”

“The superintendent and BESE president are creating hysteria about one test that is several months away,” he said. “They say this is just about standards, and not curriculum. But how could it create chaos months out before a test if it’s just about standards? What the proponents of Common Core have proved in this case is that Common Core is about controlling curriculum.”

BESE attorney Phil Preis said Hernandez’s ruling “confirmed the decision of BESE that our children can and should compete with children from all states by using the common core assessments.”

“The judge was right to let these educators lead,” he said of White, BESE President Chas Roemer and others.

Jindal filed court papers in the suit earlier this month urging Hernandez to prohibit Louisiana education officials from using Common Core tests in the state’s public schools. The governor contends BESE and the Education Department failed to follow state procurement law in planning for the Common Core test contract.

Common Core is a series of standards in reading, writing and math. BESE approved Common Core standards in mid-2010, and they have been used since the 2010-11 school year.

The key dispute between pro- and anti-Common Core forces is what standardized tests will be administered in the spring.

BESE and White contend the choice of exams is up to BESE. Jindal and his allies are trying to derail BESE’s plans to use tests aligned to Common Core and crafted by a federally funded consortium of states, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

Supporters say the new academic standards are needed to improve student achievement, especially in low-performing states like Louisiana. Critics argue the standards are top-heavy with federal influence, drive the curriculum and often include inappropriate materials.

Hernandez noted in his ruling that Jindal and then-Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2010 between the state and other member states of PARCC committing Louisiana to the implementation of Common Core standards in the state.

A charter school administrator, teacher and parent each testified Monday in Hernandez’s courtroom that the Jindal administration’s sudden suspension in June of this year of contracts for the key state test has injected an air of insecurity and uncertainty into the new school year.

Last week, state District Judge Tim Kelley — one of Hernandez’s colleagues on the 19th Judicial District Court — denied a request from 17 state lawmakers to block the ongoing implementation of Common Core.

The legislators sued BESE and the Education Department, claiming the board and department should have followed the Administrative Procedures Act, which would have allowed crucial public input on the revised academic standards before BESE gave its approval.