In a rarity, Common Core bill wins final approval

Pushes back implementation

Aside from a few exceptions, all the angry rhetoric before and during the 2014 Louisiana legislative session failed to produce much to change Common Core.

A bill that would give students, teachers and schools an extra year to prepare for the new academic standards — more of a tweak than an overhaul — won final legislative approval Sunday.

The legislation, House Bill 953, passed its final test in the House 70-17 without debate.

The state already planned to offer special academic allowances for the new goals in reading, writing and math for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

The plan adds the 2015-16 school year to the list.

“The important thing about it is that it allows for an additional year of the test being taken to gather necessary data to set that baseline achievement level,” state Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, sponsor of the bill, said after the vote.

“And also to allow for schools, school districts and the students to get comfortable with the standards and the tests, to make sure that we implement them in a fair way,” Leger said.

But approval of Leger’s bill was an exception in a session where Common Core bills mostly died.

The nearly three-month meeting, which ends on Monday at 6 p.m, has been dominated by often heated arguments about Common Core, which has been adopted by 43 states.

However, key bills to shelve the standards, to rewrite new ones and to scrap the tests that go with them were killed.

Even lesser efforts, including a push to force bids on which tests are used, died quietly.

On the next to last day of the legislative session, new controversy surfaced over the exams, which were developed by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former backer of the standards, has repeatedly criticized Common Core and PARCC, and threatened to try to unilaterally unplug test plans.

On Sunday a business coalition called Blueprint Louisiana, including the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, sent a letter to Jindal asking to meet with him personally to share its concerns about scrapping the exams, which the group backs.

“We believe the Legislature is in the process of speaking very clearly and affirmatively to the issue of Common Core after months of thoughtful and extensive deliberation,” the letter says.

“Yet we know that a very small group of legislators has asked you to essentially sidestep that democratic process and use whatever executive authority you might have to pull Louisiana out of the PARCC consortium and by extension abandon the PARCC assessment,” business officials wrote.

Asked for comment, Jindal said in a prepared statement that “we are always happy to sit down with the business community to discuss important issues that affect our children.

“On Common Core, we strongly believe education is best left to local control and we are considering our options to address the many concerns of parents with Common Core after the legislative session ends,” according to the statement.

Whether the governor has the authority to shelve test plans is in dispute.

State Superintendent of Education John White, who was Jindal’s choice for the job, and Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, contend that they, too, would have to agree to drop Common Core test plans to make the move effective.

White and Roemer both oppose such action.

Leger’s bill extends by one year policies approved in December by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The legislation requires a curved distribution of grades for schools during the move to Common Core, which White and others say will prevent any huge drop in grades during the move to more rigorous standards.

That means the total number of schools and districts rated A, B, C, D and F would not vary even though they could differ at individual schools compared to 2012-13 results.

The bill sailed through the Legislature despite opposition from both sides of the Common Core divide.

Backers of the new standards complained that an additional year of special academic allowances was unnecessary.

Common Core opponents argued that the bill would entrench the standards and test plans in state law.

In a text message, White said the key parts of Leger’s bill were clearly spelled out in a 2012 state law.

“The path our state has been on for years to raise standards and adopt new tests has been in our state’s laws for years,” he said.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the leaders of the anti-Common Core forces, said Sunday he remains optimistic that Jindal will act to shelve test plans.

“In my mind, I am thinking he is unilaterally planning on doing something, executive order or whatever that might be,” he said.

The House also voted 98-0 for a bill to ensure the privacy of student data, another concern of Common Core critics.

The legislation is House Bill 1076.

The vote on both bills came on the same day that the state Department of Education announced that nearly 45,000 students took part in trial runs of PARCC tests in recent weeks.

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