Anti-Common Core steps threaten schools, memos say

Separate bids by Gov. Bobby Jindal and 17 state lawmakers to derail Common Core are “hugely disruptive” to Louisiana’s public schools and could cost state and local education systems millions of dollars, according to two internal memos circulating at the state Department of Education.

One of the reviews, dated Aug. 7, says an order by the Jindal administration to suspend test contracts linked to Common Core is also threatening science and social studies exams for 300,000 students in grades three through eight; a variety of special education tests; teacher evaluations; and annual letter grades for public schools.

“The number of policies that are disrupted by a disruption in the tests is seemingly endless,” state Superintendent of Education John White said in an interview.

The other memo, dated Aug. 6, said an anti-Common Core lawsuit filed by a group of legislators to replace the standards with new ones, poses a “real risk of serious academic and fiscal harm” that may carry a huge price tag.

Two other states that pulled out of Common Core and are drafting new academic goals — Indiana and Oklahoma — face costs of up to $254 million and $125 million, respectively, according to a review prepared by assistant state Superintendent of Education Erin Bendily.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols disputed conclusions in the memo about exam contracts and said there is nothing to prevent the department from proceeding on science, social studies and other exams unrelated to Common Core.

“Those tests are fine,” Nichols said.

State Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles, one of the leading critics of Common Core in the Legislature, said the state Department of Education has never disclosed costs to adopt the new guidelines in reading, writing and math and the accompanying assessments.

He labeled the memos “a bunch of stuff to muddy the water” in the debate over the education overhaul.

Geymann is one of six state lawmakers who plan to travel to Oklahoma City on Aug. 22 to see how that state plans to replace Common Core after its Legislature voted to drop the standards.

Jindal put steps in motion on June 18 that resulted in the suspension of state test contracts that White and others planned to use to see what students know about the new academic goals.

But one of the memos, written by Deputy Chief of Staff Jessica Baghian, said the suspension also took in “a wide ranging set of required assessments.”

As a result, Baghian wrote, the department cannot deliver:

  • Science exams to 6,400 teachers
  • Social studies tests to 7,500 teachers
  • Exams for about 4,000 students with cognitive disabilities
  • Graduation tests set for October for about 3,000 students with persistent disabilities
  • Proficiency exams for about 15,000 English language learners

White, who backs Common Core, said social studies, science and other tests are affected because of the contract suspension ordered by Nichols’ office.

“Many of them have not been discussed because they don’t have an immediate impact on Common Core,” he said.

Nichols disagreed.

She said state officials have been in contact with the vendor to spell out what is covered by the suspension.

“John White has not given us this memo, or raised these concerns with the Division of Administration,” Nichols said in a prepared statement.

“He and Chas need to cut out the dramatic antics, follow the law and issue an RFP,” she said, a reference to state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer.

Jindal wants education officials to seek request for proposals, called RFPs, to come up with new tests.

The lawsuit filed by Geymann and 16 other lawmakers contends that Common Core should be shelved because BESE and the state Department of Education failed to follow required state procedures.

White and BESE officials say no such rules were required.

The memo says other states replacing Common Core standards “has sent educators scrambling to convene advisory councils, develop new standards, create new tests, train teachers, replace textbooks and communicate to parents exactly what their children will be learning and how their learning will be measured.”

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