Less than two weeks before the launch of Common Core tests Louisiana’s top school board will reopen debate Thursday on the exams.

The assessments are one of the key items on a heavy agenda for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Committees start work at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The full board meets at 11:30 a.m. Friday.

After months of arguments, about 300,000 students in grades three through eight will take Common Core tests in earnest for the first time March 16-20.

But some parents want their children to skip the exams, and several BESE members contend the state Department of Education should waive penalties for schools and districts when students “opt out” of the assessments.

In a proposal sure to spark controversy, BESE will consider requiring that state Superintendent of Education John White provide a report to the panel after the tests on the participation rate and whether any BESE action is needed to address the issue.

White has said he favors that option and that officials will know in June how many students skipped the tests.

Some school districts have asked BESE to back off plans to penalize schools and districts where students avoid the exams, producing zeroes.

As a result, schools and districts could suffer in annual school performance scores.

However, it is unclear how many students plan to avoid the assessments.

Common Core represents new standards in reading, writing and math.

The exams stem from a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Backers say Common Core will improve student achievement, and allow state-to-state comparisons on how students fare.

Opponents argue that the new guidelines represent federal interference in local school issues.

In another area, BESE will decide whether to revamp the way public school teachers are evaluated.

The changes were recommended by a panel of educators and others that studied the issue for months.

Under current rules, about one third of Louisiana’s public teachers face annual reviews in which half the job check is linked to the growth of student achievement and half is based on classroom observations by principals.

Teachers rated as “ineffective” in either category can eventually face dismissal.

Under the revised rules, principals would be allowed to use multiple measures, not just student test scores, on the objective half of the review.

In addition, principals would win new authority to make the final call on whether a teacher earns passing marks.

BESE also will consider a proposal that would extend the use of special policies for letter grades assigned to public schools during the move to Common Core.

Grades were supposed to be issued on a curve for two years, ending with the 2014-15 school year.

Instead, that policy would be extended another year — 2015-16.

Whether BESE will make its annual request for state aid for public schools to the Legislature is unclear.

While the issue is on the agenda, BESE President Chas Roemer said Monday it may require a special meeting.

The request has to be submitted by April 3.

A task force has recommended that state aid be increased by $75 million, which would be a 2.75 percent hike.

Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday recommended a virtual freeze in state aid — the sixth time in eight years — except for an additional $34 million to handle 6,284 additional students. The governor’s aid request totals $3.6 billion.

BESE also will debate whether to require a handful of charter schools authorized by the panel to offer transportation for students starting with the 2018-19 school year.

Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said Tuesday her group backs the requirement.

Brigitte Nieland, who follows education issues for the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, said her organization will oppose the proposed mandate.

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