Overhaul to exclude testing infants

The overhaul of Louisiana’s pre-kindergarten system will exclude any new push to test infants, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday.

“That is not on the table,” White said.

The superintendent made his comments to the Nonpublic School Council, an advisory panel that, under a new state law, is required to review plans to revamp the state’s pre-K setup.

The changes are designed to improve what critics call a fragmented system that features uneven quality, standards and availability.

White unveiled the framework for the new system last month.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to review the plan next month.

Pilot projects and trial runs are scheduled for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years before the new system takes full effect with the 2015-16 school year.

Tests were one of the few concerns raised by members of the council, which includes superintendents of Catholic school systems and others.

The new regulations apply to early childhood programs serving children from birth to age 5 that receive state or federal dollars.

State officials are supposed to establish early learning performance guidelines for those up to age 3 and academic standards for 3- and 4-year-olds.

But White said the changes will not include testing 2-year-olds.

“No one is interested in that,” he said.

Even how students and programs will be assessed, he said, is “one of the real unknowns” and one of the reasons that the state plans to launch pilot projects next year.

Jan Lancaster, superintendent for the office of Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said she is concerned about the new requirement that schools and child care centers get state-issued letter grades.

White noted that the grades are required by the law, which won approval earlier this year, but that it is too early to tell what the grading system will look like.

He also downplayed concerns that the new rules could force numerous child care providers out of business.

White said they will be offered online and in-person assistance, tax credits and other help to comply with the new rules.

He said the aim of the overhaul “is not to say ‘You did not do well last year, you’re done.’ ”

Early childhood programs that fail to meet state standards stand to lose state aid but no timetable for improvements has been decided.

About 42,000 4-year-olds from low-income families qualify for publicly funded pre-K classes now.