Tensions are rising between state Superintendent of Education John White and a growing number of local school superintendents over how and when Common Core test results will be released.
White has said that, while he is following an 11-month-old timeline, he is also trying to accommodate unprecedented requests from 29 of Louisiana’s 70 district superintendents for additional student test data.
“We’ve been communicating our timeline to you for nearly a year, so this request comes a little late, and it has serious implications for additional testing and additional costs to the state budget,” White said in a recent email to a group of superintendents.
But Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said White is needlessly complicating what should be a simple process.
Milton, who is superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish school system, said he wants a list of the Common Core test questions and how many each student got right and wrong.
Doing so, he said, would allow teachers and others to zero in on students’ strengths and weaknesses without waiting until early November for detailed student reports.
“To wait until November is going to push me back from making instructional decisions until January,” Milton said. “That is not a good place to be.”
The test results stem from Common Core exams that about 320,000 students in grades three through eight took in the spring.
They are also the culmination of more than two years of controversy.
Worries about how students will fare were raised last week after White said the results will be sobering.
White’s critics say the tests results are being delayed and massaged because of worries that low scores will raise questions about the value of Common Core and sweeping changes made in public schools since 2012.
“It is all about the spin,” said Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.
On the other side, Chas Roemer, president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the superintendents’ demands are part of another push by the LSBA, teacher unions and superintendents to undo 15 years of school accountability measures.
“They have fought accountability the whole time,” Roemer said. “This group is kind of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The test results were a hot topic during a meeting of the 23-member Superintendents’ Advisory Council on Sept. 17.
White told the group he would review the issue, and a few days later he sent them an email that said he would share “raw scores” with superintendents, such as that an individual student got 72 out of 104 questions right.
That information sharing with dozens of local superintendents starts on Monday.
However, White has told Milton and others that it makes no sense to turn over test questions because, once that is done, they can never be used again.
“Then you have to spend millions of dollars on new test questions and add time to the tests so you can field test those questions,” he said.
Whether the results that White plans to share will help in the classroom remains to be seen, superintendents said.
In the best case, St. Bernard Parish School District Superintendent Doris Voitier said, the data will help educators to pinpoint student weaknesses and address those shortcomings early in the school year.
“I don’t know what will be coming to us and how extensive it will be,” said Voitier, who was a recent president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Central School District Superintendent Michael Faulk said White has said local superintendents “won’t understand” the test data until they are refined.
“We are the ones that have to deal with the teachers,” he said. “We are the ones that have to deal with the parents. We are the ones that have to deal with the public perception.”
Faulk added, “What do we have now? We have absolutely nothing.”
White dismissed criticism that the results are being delayed until after the Oct. 24 primary, when eight of the 11 seats on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education are on the ballot. He said BESE will discuss the results at its Oct. 13 meeting, including a breakdown of students statewide by five achievement categories: mastery, advanced, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.
The dispute set off a flurry of emails for days between White and local school leaders.
A conference call was initially scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m., but Milton canceled it and said he needed to see the data first.
Richard said school districts need test data “that will help teachers and administrators make good instructional decisions now, at the beginning of the school year, rather than waiting until the midterm.”
On what White plans to turn over, he said: “No one knows what John is talking about, and we cannot respond until we can see it. That is where the impasse is right now.”
Roemer said state education leaders discussed the issue in December and decided the Common Core test results would be released in the fall.
“This should not be a surprise to anybody,” he said.
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