White: Scrapping Common Core tests would spark problems

Lawmakers weigh Common Core fate

“We value the work we have done, our students have done, our parents have done, and we are here to insist you value that work, too. “ Excerpt of letter signed by teachers being sent to state House and Senate members

Dropping plans for Common Core tests would spark huge disruptions in Louisiana public schools, state Superintendent of Education John White said Monday.

White told the Senate Finance Committee that he “cannot imagine” how the state would come up with new exams for the 2014-15 school year, especially since this school year ends in about three weeks.

The hotly debated issue surfaced during a review of the state Department of Education’s budget for the financial year that begins July 1.

Several senators used the gathering to quiz White on the national academic standards called Common Core and the testing consortium in charge of the exams the state plans to use, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has said he has concerns about a “one size fits all” exam and said last week that it is a “very viable option” for him to unilaterally order the state out of the tests if lawmakers fail to act.

White disagrees and several committee members sounded skeptical about withdrawal.

“It is not just impractical but almost impossible,” state Sen. Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Jack Donahue, R-Mandeville, repeatedly asked White about the impact of dropping the tests, which are set for spring 2015.

White said it would cost the state about $5 million initially to develop new tests in the first year and to administer them.

“The cost to local districts would be much more sizeable,” he said.

Department officials said last month that it would cost the state about $25 million over five years to replace Common Core and its assessments.

White said it typically takes about 18 months for the state to work with vendors, develop a new exam, test and launch it.

He said trying to jam a hastily developed test into classrooms to test their knowledge of Common Core “would be meaningless, it would be costly.”

About 322,000 students in grades three through eight are set to take the exams in reading, writing and math.

Louisiana is one of 16 states and the District of Columbia — about 15 million students — that are set to take the PARCC test.

Backers say the tougher standards will better prepare students for college and careers.

Opponents contend Common Core lacks enough input from parents and that the tests carry student privacy risks and other problems.

Earlier in the day, five educators said they will urge state House and Senate members to stick with Common Core and the PARCC tests despite the controversy.

Kevin George, superintendent of the St. John the Baptist school system, said he is losing sleep at night over the possibility that the Common Core tests may be derailed.

“I feel for our teachers,” George said.

Amy Deslattes, a 16-year English teacher at Lafayette High School, said the governor’s stance marks an about-face from his views two years ago when he pushed a sweeping overhaul in public school operations.

“He is not being true to those statements he made in 2012,” Deslattes said.

Deslattes said a letter is being sent to state House and Senate members, and visits are planned to the State Capitol, that spells out the work that has been done since 2010 to implement Common Core and PARCC.

“We value the work we have done, our students have done, our parents have done, and we are here to insist you value that work, too,” says the letter, which is signed by dozens of educators.

Earlier this month the House Education Committee rejected two bills that would scrap Common Core and PARCC.

However, critics of the new academic goals contend that Jindal has the authority to drop the tests.

In a high-level dispute, White and Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, say withdrawing from PARCC would require the support of Jindal, White and Roemer.

Judy Vail, accountability coordinator for the Calcasieu Parish school system and Common Core/PARCC specialist, said Louisiana has had about 74 people involved in the development of the test since 2010, when BESE endorsed Common Core.

Vail said the PARCC exams are a major change from traditional, multiple-choice quizzes.

“There is no way Louisiana can develop a test like that in the time frame we are talking about,” she said.