Nearly one year after Common Core tests sparked statewide controversy, this year’s version is being rolled out with little fanfare and few arguments.
“I think all the hype and stuff like that has kind of died off,” said Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system and former president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Even the name of the revamped exam — LEAP 2016 — is likely to tamp down some of the anger that surrounded what became a politically toxic term — Common Core.
“This is a uniquely Louisiana test,” said Jessica Baghian, assistant superintendent for assessment and accountability for the state Department of Education.
Last year, the first round of exams took place March 16-20 and the second session May 4-8.
This time, the tests will be limited to one week and have been pushed back to April 25-29, giving students more time in the school year to get ready.
“That makes it significantly easier for schools,” said Rebecca Kockler, assistant superintendent of academic content for the Education Department. “It is less disruptive.”
In addition, superintendents said there is less talk about students skipping the tests than last year, when about 5,000 students did so.
In 2015, about 3 percent of the students in grades three through eight opted out of the exams in DeSoto Parish in north Louisiana. School officials said that drove down both school and district performance scores.
“As far as I’m aware, there has been less discussion this year than last year concerning opt-outs,” said Cade Brumley, superintendent for the district.
The contrast between the run-up to the 2015 and 2016 tests could hardly be more stark.
“There is definitely not the pushback we saw last year,” said former state Rep. Brett Geymann, a longtime critic of Common Core and sponsor of the key bill in last year’s legislative compromise on Common Core.
Last year, the new standards in reading, writing and math sparked bitter arguments for months in the Legislature, courts and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. They also triggered a high-profile spat between Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Common Core backer-turned-opponent, and a former ally, state Superintendent of Education John White, who backs the overhaul.
But some of the controversy evaporated when the Legislature ordered a review of the standards — it is due to BESE in March — and added a requirement that any changes in the standards had to undergo legislative review.
Arguments continue on whether that review will produce major changes.
More bickering is expected when the latest plan crafted by a roughly 100-member panel of educators and others reaches BESE and the Legislature.
“I think pressure will resurface if the parents are not pleased with those results,” Geymann said in an email response to questions.
The fact voters last year elected a BESE board viewed as mostly in favor of Common Core, or something like it, and other developments helped quiet the issue.
One of the compromise measures that emerged from the 2015 Legislature, House Bill 542, sparked the changes in this year’s tests. That law bans the state from contracting with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the former source of test questions.
Critics said PARCC was top-heavy with federal influence and out of touch with the needs of Louisiana students.
In addition, no more than 49.9 percent of the questions on this year’s exams can be like those created by PARCC.
Even with the new requirements, Kockler said, results in Louisiana still can be compared with those in 10 other states and the District of Columbia.
“Our assessment measures the same standards as last year,” she said. “Because the standards remain the same in many ways, the assessment will feel and look similar to last year.”
The new schedule means classroom days affected by testing will drop by 38 percent, Kockler said.
Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, said delaying the start of the 2016 exams by roughly six weeks compared with last year is significant.
“More time to learn typically brings better results,” said Milton, who is superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish school district.
School districts are supposed to get the results of this year’s exams in July. Last year’s mid-October release also sparked complaints from educators.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.