Three BESE leaders propose Common Core plan

Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer testifies in front of the Senate Committee on Education in this May 2013 file photo. Show caption
Advocate file photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) President Chas Roemer testifies in front of the Senate Committee on Education in this May 2013 file photo.

Jindal administration dismisses bid as tensions escalate

Three leaders of the state’s top school board Thursday proposed a onetime use of controversial Common Core test questions for the 2014-15 school year, as well as traditional Louisiana exam questions, in a bid to strike a compromise with Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The proposal was spelled out in a four-page letter to Jindal, who has said he wants the state out of Common Core and the tests that go with it.

“I am optimistic we are going to get an agreement here,” said Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and one of the three who signed off on the plan.

But less than three hours later, the Jindal administration dismissed the plan.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols told reporters that neither of two key state testing contracts at the center of the controversy provide for standardized exams during the 2014-15 school year. “Those services are not within the scope of either contract,” Nichols said.

Moments later, state Superintendent of Education John White produced copies of the contracts that, he said, clearly show that Common Core test plans were spelled out in detail for the upcoming school year.

The exchange of charges and countercharges is the latest dustup in whether and how Common Core and any accompanying assessments will unfold.

The exams in dispute are being developed by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

They are designed to measure what students know about Common Core, and they allow state-to-state comparisons of student performance.

BESE, which has endorsed Common Core twice, voted 6-3 earlier this month to hire special legal counsel to challenge Jindal’s bid to derail Louisiana’s move to the new standards in reading, writing and math.

The latest plan is backed by Roemer; Jim Garvey, vice president of the panel; and Holly Boffy, who is secretary-treasurer of BESE, which has 11 members.

Roemer said it was put together in hopes of speeding resolution of the impasse, and ahead of a meeting on the issue set for Thursday with White and Jindal.

Under the proposal, students in grades three through eight would be tested in the upcoming school year through a combination of PARCC questions on English and math and traditional LEAP and iLEAP questions on science and social studies, which were supposed to be phased out.

Roemer said the PARCC questions would allow comparisons in student performance with other states — a longtime goal of Common Core — while also being a Louisiana-specific exam through the inclusion of LEAP and iLEAP inquiries.

He said it also would allow the state to avoid using any subcontracting to acquire additional test questions, which he said addresses a key Jindal objection.

“The BESE board has taken tremendous steps to meet the technical objections of the governor but has also taken steps to ensure the idea that we have a Louisiana-specific test,” Roemer told reporters during a 45-minute conference call.

But Nichols, whose office has suspended approval of contracts that White hoped to use for PARCC tests, said the BESE plan is riddled with questions.

She said that, while state Department of Education officials have said “over and over” that the needed testing contracts are in place, they fail to point out specific language that allows for exams during the 2014-15 school year.

Those issues should have been addressed months ago, she said.

Nichols also questioned how the state paid for PARCC questions that Roemer and others say can be used when classes start.

“I don’t know how they proposed to acquire free services through PARCC,” she said.

Nichols also said that, during an early review of contracts, state Department of Education officials have shown “looseness” on how they follow the state procurement code.

Under the plan, the state would seek bids on new Common Core tests starting with the 2015-16 school year, with a vendor to be picked by Dec. 31.

The dispute stems from a series of orders that Jindal announced on June 18.

The governor said White’s state Department of Education and BESE failed to follow state procurement laws in voting to require tests being prepared by PARCC.

Jindal ordered the state to come up with new assessments.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.