House panel OKs bill to ease impact of Common Core

A Louisiana House committee approved a bill Tuesday that would provide an additional year to soften the impact of the national tests that go with Common Core.

The change means students and schools would have three school years, not two, where special academic allowances would be in place during the transition to new standards in reading, writing and math.

The proposal, House Bill 953, cleared the House Education Committee on 10-6 vote, despite opposition from both backers and opponents of the new academic standards, including Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office.

It faces action in the full Louisiana House.

Common Core critics said the bill would not go far enough to remedy what they view as unfair standards and flawed tests that should be scrapped.

Backers of the new academic goals questioned the need for any delays beyond what the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved in December.

House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, sponsor of HB953, said the measure strikes a balance between those who favor testing plans while answering concerns that districts will not be ready for the overhaul.

Students in grades three through eight are set to take the Common Core tests — called PARCC — for the first time in earnest in 2015 after practice runs this year.

BESE earlier approved an array of changes to lighten the effect of Common Core, including requirements that public schools be graded on a curve in 2014 and 2015.

BESE also approved a two-year delay in the use of controversial data during teacher evaluations.

Leger’s bill would add a third year to those special arrangements — 2015-2016.

The results of the 2015 and 2016 scores would also be sent to a Louisiana university for review, which Leger said is better than relying strictly on any analysis by the state Department of Education.

“What it is about is ensuring that we raise expectations and strengthen accountability and go about these things in the right way,” he told the committee.

Common Core and the new tests are set to take full effect in Louisiana for the 2014-2015 school year.

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and a member of the committee, praised the legislation and said it is critical that the new standards and tests be implemented properly.

Broadwater also chastised critics of the standards who told the panel previously that they need more time.

“This is giving you an additional year,” he said.

The president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, Debbie Meaux, said while she is not opposed to the additional year Leger’s bill fails to go far enough.

“Another year to get it right is a good thing,” Meaux said. “But what are we getting right?”

The bill continues the state on its path to the controversial Common Core exams, said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Those exams have been developed by a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

“PARCC is a moving target and PARCC is not ready,” Richard said.

Others told the committee that Leger’s bill would nullify Jindal’s ability to unilaterally scrap the tests, which the governor has called a viable option if lawmakers fail to act by adjournment on June 2.

BESE approved changes in December in a bid to defuse criticism of Common Core and the tests that go with it.

However, the issue remains a highly charged topic in the Legislature, and more efforts are planned to get rid of the PARCC exams.