Louisiana School Chief Proposes Review of State’s Standardized Tests

Published March 6, 2015

Louisiana education Superintendent John White has announced plans to review the state’s Common Core-aligned standardized tests one year ahead of schedule.

If the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approves, the state’s Department of Education will examine its reading and math tests in order to fashion a “Louisiana Test” that incorporates state and national standards.

“We should begin a review of English and math standards as soon as [this year’s] results are back,” White told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

White has been in a dispute with Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) for several months over implementing Common Core. When Jindal changed his position on Common Core in 2014, White, an appointee of Jindal’s, remained in favor of the standards. Jindal has tried everything from issuing an executive order to stop Common Core-aligned testing to sending a letter to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) asking the testing consortium to withdraw from Louisiana. He has even initiated a lawsuit against the federal Department of Education (DOE).

In the suit, Jindal says the federal government coerced state officials into signing up for Common Core standards in hopes of winning Race to the Top grant money. The suit says Education Secretary Arne Duncan and DOE “constructed a scheme that effectively forces states down a path toward a national curriculum.”

A judge recently ruled Jindal’s lawsuit would proceed.  

‘A Costly Misadventure’

Lisa Snell, director of education and child welfare studies at the Reason Foundation, says Louisiana’s Common Core testing dispute appears likely to end up as a costly misadventure.

“Will this just be another turnover of curriculum and testing, spending lots of money to do things a different way with little to show for it?” Snell asked. “I think this applies [both] nationally and in Louisiana. Five years from now, when this is settled, will we see significant gains attributable to Common Core? I am very skeptical of this.”

Snell says she thinks Louisiana’s school choice reforms, which established a state-takeover system to replace failing public schools with charter schools, “will trump Common Core in the long run” as a positive reform. Snell says she is worried delaying new tests could undermine this system.

“If you believe that accountability forces more choice on to low-performing schools through charter, voucher, and parent trigger-type expansions, then Louisiana will be coming up on a third year where there will be no data to judge schools,” Snell said. “If Louisiana’s test is changed again to tweak PARCC, there will be no longitudinal data at all.”

‘A Major Victory’

Zeev Wurman, a former DOE official and member of California Academic Content Standards Commission, which evaluated Common Core standards in California, says Louisiana moving to its own test would be “a major victory.”

“Once a state leaves the consortium, it’s basically almost back to normal,” Wurman said. “The state has its own test, and hence it can change the standards or stick to them—their choice.

“If [a state] wants to look stupid and use mediocre standards, nothing new there,” Wurman said. “Many states did that before Common Core, too. But states can start to compete again.”

Would Secure Students’ Data

Wurman says student-level testing data for states that withdraw from PARCC would not end up at DOE. 

“[DOE] never possessed individual-level data before,” Wurman said. “There was no need for it anyway. There is a prohibition on making a national student database, and everyone thought that covers student data too.”

That changed four years ago, when DOE amended the regulations for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to allow greater access to student data by private parties, including PARCC.

Wurman says data collection is part of a larger plan to expand the federal government’s control of the economy.

“If you want to do national workforce planning, you need individual student data,” said Wurman.

Ben Boychuk ([email protected]) is a policy advisor for education at The Heartland Institute and a former managing editor of School Reform News.

Image by Natalie Freitas.

­­Learn More:

Danielle Dreilinger, “Louisiana schools Superintendent John White proposes Common Core compromise”, The Times-Picayune, February 23, 2015, http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2015/02/john_white_proposes_common_cor.html