BESE rejects bid to derail Common Core tests

While legal arguments began a few blocks away, Louisiana’s top school board Tuesday rejected a long-shot bid to scuttle Common Core test plans.

The vote was 3-6.

Jane Smith, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s newest appointee to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, tried to win approval for the state to again use LEAP and iLEAP tests for the current school year, which would undo plans to rely on exams used in other states linked to the new standards.

Backers noted that most public schools are starting this week, and they said some kind of test certainty is needed for teachers, students and parents.

“I really think that is a solution while we wait for the courts to decide,” Smith said.

But state Superintendent of Education John White urged the panel to stick with previous plans to see whether BESE can get any guidance from the courts.

A pro-Common Core lawsuit got its first hearing Tuesday near the site of the BESE gathering, and a key court session is set for Aug. 18 on efforts to allow Common Core test plans backed by White and a majority of BESE to proceed.

White reiterated his pledge to have a test proposal for the 2014-15 school year by Aug. 31. “I think we are in a pretty good spot,” White said.

LEAP and iLEAP exams are state tests that Louisiana has used for years.

BESE voted last month to hire a special legal counsel to intervene in the pro-Common Core lawsuit in hopes of winning approval to use exams similar to those crafted by a consortium of states called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

A hearing on Monday is supposed to focus on whether a judge will lift the Jindal administration’s suspension of state test contracts that Common Core advocates plan to rely on.

White said that, without a test contract and a vendor, the key hurdle is the logistics associated with giving tests, training teachers, scoring the results and analyzing them.

“It’s all the other services that is the problem,” he said.

Critics of the new standards in reading, writing and math argued that putting some kind of test plan in place was preferable to no action.

“We need to make sure our kids are ready for whatever is coming their way,” Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, told BESE during public testimony.

“They are not political footballs,” Meaux said.

Lottie Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, endorsed Smith’s proposal to use LEAP and iLEAP exams again.

“I don’t know that it is in our best interest to wait for a judge’s ruling,” Beebe said.

Others argued that, regardless of any court ruling before Aug. 31, appeals are certain.

“Our teachers are concerned with the lack of an assessment,” Beebe said.

The pro-Common Core lawsuit is one of two pending in the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge.

An anti-Common Core challenge filed by 17 state lawmakers is set for its first hearing on Friday.

BESE already has had two special meetings in recent weeks over Common Core and may hold a third.

Several panel members said they want to gather again in Baton Rouge when White’s test plan is unveiled.

The vote on Tuesday was technically a committee tally.

However, all but two BESE members voted — Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge, and Jay Guillot, of Ruston.

Voting “yes” on Smith’s motion were Smith, of Bossier City; Lottie Beebe, Breaux Bridge; and Carolyn Hill, Baton Rouge.

Voting no were Holly Boffy, Youngsville; Jim Garvey, Metairie; Walter Lee, Mansfield; Judy Miranti, New Orleans; Kira Orange Jones, New Orleans; and Connie Bradford, Ruston.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs. theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.