Roemer takes issue with Jindal on core testing stance

In an unusual split, the president of Louisiana’s top school board took issue Tuesday with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s comments that he would not support a “one size fits all” test to quiz students on the tougher classroom standards called Common Core.

“I think he probably needs to rethink that statement and what the ramifications are,” said Chas Roemer, who heads the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Roemer said the tests will vary depending on the grade of the student.

He said that, while students in grades 3 to 8 are set to take a test next year singled out for criticism by the governor, high school students will be checked with a different exam, likely the ACT.

“I don’t disagree with the sentiment in general,” Roemer said of Jindal’s statement, which was issued Monday evening. “But we are not proposing a single test.”

He added later, “The one-size-fits-all is neither what we proposed nor what we practice.”

Both Republicans, public disagreement is rare between Roemer and Jindal. They are usually political allies, especially on efforts to overhaul public schools.

Roemer also is a key figure behind the governor’s agenda at BESE, an 11-member panel, mostly pro-Jindal, that sets policies for about 700,000 public school students statewide.

Roemer and other proponents of Common Core and Jindal have been drifting apart in recent months amid the governor’s mixed views of the new standards.

The test in the middle of the latest dispute is the work of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

In a prepared statement issued Monday, Jindal said he has “concerns” with Common Core and PARCC.

Roemer disagreed Tuesday.

“I happen to think that PARCC is the best test available to us and is the most easily transferable and comparable across the states,” Roemer said, a reference to state-to-state comparisons on student performance.

In another twist, state Superintendent of Education John White, who was hired by BESE at the urging of the governor, is a major proponent of Common Core and PARCC.

The superintendent has repeatedly touted the benefits of the new tests in recent weeks.

On Monday, White referred calls about Jindal’s statements to Roemer.

Common Core is a series of academic goals in reading, writing and math that take full effect for the 2014-15 school year.

The initial PARCC tests are set to take place in the spring 2015.

BESE adopted Common Core in 2010 and, under Roemer, reaffirmed that support earlier this year.

Backers say it will improve student achievement, and they note that 44 other states have joined the effort too.

Common Core has turned into a divisive topic in the Legislature, including efforts to revamp or repeal it.

Critics say the new rules represent federal intrusion in local school issues. The test in dispute is set to be given for the first time in the spring of 2015.

Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge, said there are reasons to use a single exam in some cases.

He noted that ACT results — a measure of college readiness — help determine eligibility for the student scholarship called TOPS.

“We don’t use multiple tests for that,” Roemer said.

In his statement, Jindal also said he does not support “testing that potentially breaches student privacy.”

Roemer said he does not disagree with the governor’s concerns about privacy.

“So we have to reconcile the importance of privacy, which I respect, with the need for certain information to make sure the operations work,” he said of test data. “I don’t think anybody would disagree with that.”

Critics contend PARCC could needlessly expose sensitive information about students, such as Social Security numbers and other information.

Bills to impose new rules on student data are set to be heard at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the House Education Committee.