Stalemate seen between governor's office and BESE over testing

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POSTED: Thursday, July 17, 2014 - 8:56pm

UPDATED: Friday, July 18, 2014 - 8:46am

There will not be a simple answer to the question of which test our students will take this year.

Governor Bobby Jindal and State Superintendent John White met Thursday afternoon to talk about Common Core, and ended up just as far apart as they were before.

"I'm humbled by the challenge of resolving this conflict," White said afterward.

White is caught in the middle of a debate between the Jindal administration and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education over testing contracts, and went to the Governor's Mansion to try to sort things out.

"So we spent a lot of the time talking about the history of corruption, and then why it's so important to follow the law," said Kyle Plotkin, Governor Jindal's Chief of Staff. "The governor reiterated to John what we've been saying for the past couple of weeks: the importance of following the law."

Governor Jindal canceled contracts related to standardized testing in June after announcing that he did not want Louisiana schools to follow Common Core State Standards. Christy Nichols, state Commissioner of Administration, has argued that the Department of Education illegally used a previous contract when it hired a company to oversee the PARCC tests that students began taking in 2014. 

"It's so important to follow the procurement law because it's designed to protect taxpayers," Plotkin stated. "No agencies or agency heads are above the law."

"It's been my assessment that BESE has known for quite some time that the law is important," White countered, "and that's why they've supported a competitive bidding process."

While Governor Jindal is against Common Core and the tests developed for it, White and BESE support it.

"The governor and the superintendent disagree on Common Core. That's okay, we agree to disagree," Plotkin said.

The disagreement has turned into a power struggle between the governor's office and BESE.

"We have a very specific question," White explained, "which is: who gets to determine what's on the test?"

BESE has offered to submit a request for proposals for a new test, per Nichols' request. BESE wants to write the RFP so it can describe exactly what the test would entail. The Jindal administration believes it should have the authority to describe the test because of its role as procurement advisors.

White said that the Department of Education is months past the deadline to prepare teachers for a new standardized test, so his message to teachers is to have faith.

"The standards are the standards, stick with what you're doing," he said, "and we're going to use every single option at our disposal to ensure that we have the best test possible for this year as soon as possible."

In addition to preparing students, there are other consequences to Louisiana's not having a test in place.

"Our letter grade system is based on our tests, our scholarship system is based on those letter grades. Our charter school system is based on those letter grades," he mentioned. "We receive hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money, not because of the Common Core, but just because you have a test." 

Governor Jindal asked White to meet again with Nichols to try to find a way around this dilemma. White said he has met with her over the last few weeks, and does not believe more conversations will help. But he admitted that he does not know what the correct option will be,

"One of those options was to have this issue resolved in court," he said. "I sure hope that's not the answer.

"We have to come to a resolution soon. Or else the students will pay the price."

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