BESE officials ask for new exams

The simmering debate over Common Core reignited Tuesday, with three members of Louisiana’s top school board asking for a special meeting of the panel to come up with new tests after Gov. Bobby Jindal scrapped the first ones.

Lottie Beebe, one of the three members of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education who made the request, said educators need to gather “to move beyond the hysteria” over Louisiana’s public school landscape less than two months before classes resume.

“It is important that we have a Plan B,” Beebe wrote along with BESE members Jane Smith, who is a Jindal appointee, and Carolyn Hill.

Meanwhile, state Superintendent of Education John White dismissed proposals by the trio, superintendents and school board members that the state use the LEAP and iLEAP exams for another year while new ones are reviewed.

White said exams for the 2014-15 school year have to be aligned to national standards.

“So not only is developing Louisiana specific tests expensive and unfair to teachers,” White said. “But it is also illegal.”

BESE officials are considering a special meeting this week, officials said.

Any gathering is sure to be contentious, with Jindal backers arguing that new tests are needed and White’s supporters pressing for ways to stick with Common Core test plans four years in the making.

All the activity surfaced less than a week after Jindal said he is ordering the state out of Common Core, which represents national standards in reading, writing and math.

The governor also said he has notified the consortium that oversees the tests that go with the standards that the state is withdrawing, and BESE and the state Department of Education should solicit bids to come up with new exams.

Beebe, Smith and Hill said BESE needs “to begin the discussion of how the Louisiana Department of Education will initiate that process.

“It is imperative that we provide leadership to the school districts as they are making plans for the 2014-15 school year,” according to the letter, which was sent to White and BESE President Chas Roemer, who lives in Baton Rouge.

The three BESE members also suggested that, for the upcoming school year, the state should again use LEAP and iLEAP, both standardized tests, to see what students are learning.

They said both tests are familiar to teachers, schools and school districts.

Officials of the Louisiana School Boards Association and the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, who met privately on Tuesday, made a similar suggestion.

But White, repeating statements he has made for months, said in an interview that the state is out of LEAP and iLEAP test questions.

“To develop new ones at the last minute for essentially political reasons is unfair to teachers, unfair to students and unfair to taxpayers,” he said. “Our state law requires that by 2015 tests be comparable from one state to the next.”

White said after Jindal’s announcement on June 18 that the governor cannot unilaterally pull the state out of Common Core test plans.

The superintendent also said that his department already has a contract with a firm — Data Recognition Corp. — that would supply the PARCC test questions.

A few hours later Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols, a key Jindal lieutenant, announced that her office was suspending state approval of the agreement.

Jindal said BESE failed to follow state bid laws.

White said Tuesday that, among other issues, the suspension could jeopardize re-tests on LEAP for students who failed to pass in the spring.

“It is nice to talk about Plan B until you realize that Plan A exists and is the only viable option,” White said. “It is also the only legal action.”

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