State education leaders, allies of Gov. John Bel Edwards and even teachers are embroiled in a dispute on just how far the state should go to trim testing in public schools.

State Superintendent of Education John White has recommended modest changes in test schedules.

A panel named by Edwards favors much more, including an end to annual science testing in third through eighth grades.

And teachers disagree on whether fewer tests will downgrade the importance of key subjects, especially science.

Nathan Cotten, president of the Louisiana Science Teachers Association, criticized the plan by the governor's panel to limit science testing to the fifth and eighth grades only for elementary and middle school students.

"Should testing be reduced, then you basically reduce the emphasis on the subject," said Cotten, an educator in Terrebonne Parish.

He said the first thing kids ask when they are given tests is whether they will be graded.

"If there is no accountability for it, it loses its importance," Cotten said.

But Jordan Thomas, a sixth-grade English/language teacher in Shreveport, said the state's test volume needs to be reduced.

"It is really about students learning the content, not just filling in the bubbles," said Thomas, a member of Edwards' advisory panel.

The spat stems from public school changes prompted by a federal law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

State officials are putting together a plan to submit to federal officials by April 3, and tests are a key topic.

White proposed in September, and reiterated that view on Feb. 6, to make some exam changes, including a limit on end-of-year state testing to no more than two percent of the instructional minutes in a school year.

However, he offered no plans to make sweeping changes in science or other exams.

"State tests validate that learning is happening in every classroom for every child," according to a statement issued by Sydni Dunn, press secretary for the state Department of Education.

White declined comment.

Others are pressing for bigger reductions.

Donald Songy, education policy adviser for Edwards, said tests will be a central issue when officials try to reach agreement before any state plan is submitted to the U. S. Department of Education.

"Teachers, parents -- just about everyone is saying we are testing children too much," said Songy, former superintendent of the Ascension Parish School District.

He noted that the ESSA law does not require annual science tests, and that one, state-mandated exam in elementary and middle schools is enough.

"Science is still going to get taught," said Songy, a former science teacher himself.

"It is going to be tested," he said. "The question is how many times are we going to have to put a kid in front of a computer for a standardized test."

Edwards made reduced testing one of his campaign themes in his 2015 run for governor, and has repeated that view since.

Ironically, a review panel is set to meet in New Orleans on Monday to finalize science standards used in public schools.

The guidelines have not been updated since 1997.

The dispute on how many tests should be eliminated has to be resolved quickly.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is set to meet next month to finalize the state's plan.

That deadline stems from plans by White and others to have the new rules take effect for the 2017-18 school year.

Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central School District, said the proposed cut in science testing is in line with ESSA and its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind law.

"A lot of science is hands on," said Faulk, a member of the governor's advisory panel on the issue.

The governor's group also wants to end annual state tests in social studies for students in third through eighth grades.

Thomas said the sheer number of exams has become an issue.

"There are kids that come home and have such testing anxiety," she said.

"It is almost like they become robots," Thomas added. "Really, you lose some of the validity of the test. You are not sure if you are actually getting an accurate picture of what your students really know."

Cotten said the chief complaint of parents is daily quizzes, not the annual exams under fire.

"It is not state testing that they are talking about," he said.  

Songy said he has ongoing talks with White.

"We are having some very constructive conversations," he said. "I can't predict how it is going to work out."

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.