Louisiana education board leaders offer new proposal to move ahead with Common Core tests


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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Education leaders tried Thursday to broker a compromise with Gov. Bobby Jindal on the standardized tests used in Louisiana's public schools next year, but they hit resistance in the continuing dispute over the Common Core education standards.

Leaders of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education proposed to use a mix of Louisiana-specific test questions and material aligned to Common Core in the school year that begins next month. They said the approach would address contracting concerns raised by Jindal, while keeping Louisiana in line with its shift to the multi-state standards.

"It's not 100 percent of what he wants," said BESE President Chas Roemer. "It is a step toward him and it requires a step from him. But it maintains the academic standards that I would hope every parent in this state would expect their children to have."

But the idea appeared to be a non-starter with the Republican governor, who opposes Common Core and is trying to find ways to end its use in Louisiana's schools.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the education department's existing contracts don't appear to allow for the approach proposed by BESE President Chas Roemer and board leaders.

"The Louisiana Department of Education needs to follow the procurement code. We are not at all comfortable that this new proposal is consistent with the law," Jindal said in a statement.

The continued impasse leaves public school students and teachers in third-grade through eighth-grade with no idea what standardized tests they'll use in the spring. BESE is hiring attorneys to start the groundwork if the board decides to file a lawsuit against the governor over the dispute.

The Common Core standards are grade-by-grade benchmarks of what students should learn in English and math that have been adopted by more than 40 states. Supporters say the standards promote critical thinking and raise expectations for students. Jindal says the federal government is trying to use Common Core to control local curriculum and educational systems.

Jindal suspended a contract that Education Superintendent John White intended to use to buy Common Core testing material. He said White's department violated state procurement laws in moving to the Common Core-tied tests without seeking competitive bids for the contract.

White and Roemer say Jindal has overstepped his legal authority and is trying to undermine use of education standards supported by BESE and the Louisiana Legislature.

The proposal offered Thursday by Roemer, board vice president Jim Garvey and board secretary Holly Boffy would create a hybrid testing system for the upcoming school year.

It would keep Louisiana's standardized tests known as LEAP and iLEAP with state-developed questions, while also using English and math questions aligned with Common Core that were developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

The education department would seek competitive bids for testing services for the 2015-16 school year and beyond.

Nichols said the department can't create a new LEAP test under its existing testing contracts. "I don't see how there's a path to use an existing contract in the 2015 school year," she said.

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