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La. school board won't make it easier for Common Core testing 'opt-outs,' seeks report instead

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BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Louisiana's top school board on Thursday rejected a proposal to waive penalties for schools whose students refuse to take Common Core standardized tests later this month.

Instead, members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, asked for a tally of the participation rate and will decide later whether the "opt-outs" are so widespread that they want to take action.

The board voted 7-4 against the penalty waiver, proposed by BESE member Jane Smith. But members unanimously agreed to get testing participation information after Common Core exams are given March 16-20 to 320,000 students in grades 3 through 8.

A majority of members agreed with Superintendent of Education John White, who said the education board shouldn't make changes to years of statewide testing policy two weeks before the Common Core tests will be taken.

"We'll get a report, and we'll size up whether or not there is a problem," White said.

The Common Core standards are benchmarks of what students should learn in math and English classes by grade level. They have been adopted by more than 40 states as a way to better prepare students for college and careers. Critics, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

Some parents who oppose the standards are refusing to let their children take the tests aligned with Common Core. It is not unclear how many.

School leaders worry about the implications of the testing refusals because students who skip the test will produce zeros for themselves, their schools and their school districts in calculations of school performance scores. Those scores can determine school takeovers and other penalties.

Common Core opponents say that teachers and principals have shamed students in front of their classmates or have told them they might not be able to participate in after-school activities if they don't take the standardized tests.

"I think it's unfair to parents and teachers to not give them some clarity as to the consequences for opting out before the testing period," Jindal's assistant chief of staff Stafford Palmieri said after the board meeting. She described it as a "scare tactic."

Smith, a Common Core critic from Bossier City, said parents have the right to keep their children from taking the tests and schools shouldn't be held responsible for those decisions.

"That's a variable that the schools just don't have control over," Smith said.

Board President Chas Roemer said voting in advance to waive penalties "says it's OK to tell everybody to not take the test."

"I think that's irresponsible," he said.

Thursday's hearing was the latest in a series of battles over whether the state should continue using Common Core. To try to lessen the criticism, members of the education board also agreed to:

—Speed efforts to review the standards. The review is required for 2016 under state regulations. White will present a plan to accelerate it.

—Delay consequences for schools that perform poorly in the transition to the Common Core standards and testing. School districts will get two years of testing results, from 2015 and 2016, before the scores affect school letter grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion. Accountability consequences will begin in the 2016-17 year.

—Postpone the use of a teacher evaluation system tied to the growth in student achievement on standardized tests. The evaluation method, known as the Value Added Model, is supposed to apply to about a third of teachers whose coursework is covered by standardized tests. It was to resume in the 2015-16 school year, but another yearlong delay was approved.

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