Plaintiffs: Schools confused by Jindal's Common Core decision

The Jindal administration’s abrupt suspension of contracts for a key state test that Common Core advocates were relying on has injected an air of insecurity and uncertainty into the new school year, an administrator, teacher and parent each testified Monday.

State Superintendent of Education John White warned that education reform in Louisiana will take a step backward if the Common Core academic standards and companion tests are not used.

“Everything we do is based on standards. I continue to use Common Core standards in my classroom,” Courtney Dumas, a fourth-grade teacher at Lowery Elementary School in Ascension Parish, said during a hearing in a lawsuit that seeks a judicial order lifting the June suspension of the contracts.

But replacing Common Core year-end assessments with an alternative test would only “shortchange” students, Dumas said. “There’s been no other alternative test that I’ve heard of.”

Erin Comeaux, who has two sons attending Chateau Estates School in Kenner, said she wants all three of her sons held to the highest academic standards. Without the Common Core year-end testing, Comeaux said, she won’t know how her children’s school ranks.

“It is my responsibility to make sure they get what they need as students,” she testified in state District Judge Todd Hernandez’s courtroom.

Mickey Landrieu, executive director of the Choice Foundation, which manages three charter schools in New Orleans with 2,000 students and 225 teachers, said Common Core standards are “far superior” to the previous curriculum taught in the state.

Landrieu said he worries about his teachers and students if Common Core is eliminated.

“We don’t know what the alternative is and we’re not prepared for it,” he said. “The insecurity we have now is we just don’t know.”

Dumas, Comeaux and the Choice Foundation are plaintiffs in the suit filed last month against Jindal, the state Division of Administration and the state Office of Contractual Review.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education intervened in the case on the side of the plaintiffs.

Hernandez listened to the testimony of Dumas, Comeaux, Landrieu and White, and to arguments from attorneys for both sides, before announcing he was taking the matter under advisement and would issue a written ruling. He did not indicate when a decision would be issued.

Common Core is a series of standards in reading, writing and math. BESE approved Common Core standards in mid-2010, and they have been used since the 2010-11 school year.

The key dispute between pro- and anti-Common Core forces is what standardized tests will be administered in spring 2015.

BESE and White contend the choice of exams is up to BESE. Jindal and his allies are trying to derail BESE’s plans to use tests aligned to Common Core and crafted by a federally funded consortium of states, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

White testified that more than 80 percent of the states have adopted Common Core.

Supporters say the new academic standards are needed to improve student achievement, especially in low-performing states like Louisiana. Critics argue the standards are top-heavy with federal influence, drive the curriculum and often include inappropriate materials.

“I would like to stop the governor from stopping Common Core and PARCC,” Landrieu testified.

Thanks to Common Core, White said, “We have fundamentally changed teaching and learning in our state … in the last four years.”

White said the state would be lowering its expectations for its students if the new standards and tests aren’t used.

White refused to agree with Jindal attorney Jimmy Faircloth that the federally funded PARCC is removing curriculum control from local school districts.

“To say that (PARCC) is an attempt to control curriculum is a leap,” White said while being questioned by Faircloth.

The plaintiffs’ lead attorney, Stephen Kupperman, argued to Hernandez that the Jindal administration’s actions have caused “mass confusion” at schools and with parents.

“The school year has already started, and confusion and harm grows every day,” he said.

Greg Murphy, an attorney for the Division of Administration and Office of Contractual Review, said Jindal has every right to do what he did.

“We’re dealing with a lot of state funds here — millions and millions of dollars,” he told the judge.

Faircloth said the Common Core dispute is primarily a political question, not a legal one, and he asked Hernandez to stay on the sideline.

“The governor has express authority to do this,” Faircloth said.

BESE attorney Phil Preis argued the governor cannot interfere with education policy.

Jindal filed court papers in the suit earlier this month urging Hernandez to prohibit Louisiana education officials from using Common Core tests in the state’s public schools. The governor contends BESE and the Education Department failed to follow state procurement law in planning for the Common Core test contract.

Last week, state District Judge Tim Kelley denied a request from 17 state lawmakers to block the ongoing implementation of Common Core.

The legislators sued BESE and the Education Department, claiming the board and department should have followed the Administrative Procedures Act, which would have allowed crucial public input on the revised academic standards before BESE gave its approval.