In a radical change from last year, about 300,000 public schools students Monday begin taking what used to be called the Common Core tests — without any widespread boycotts, political rhetoric or other drama.
“It just seems to be an overall calmer environment this year,” said Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the West Feliciana Parish school district.
Most students in grades three through eight will spend parts of Monday through Wednesday on the bulk of the exams, plus one section on Thursday, to test their knowledge of math, reading and writing.
The test is now called LEAP 2016.
The results, which are due in July, are supposed to allow comparisons with 10 other states and the District of Columbia.
The tests will look slightly different this time, the result of 2015 legislation that limits questions from a controversial consortium to just under half the exam.
Even so, what students are asked is not expected to change much.
“I don’t think you will see tremendous differences between last year’s assessments and this year’s assessments because the standards are the same standards,” said Rebecca Kockler, assistant superintendent of academic content for the state Department of Education.
A panel of roughly 100 educators and Louisiana’s top school board earlier this year recommended changing about 20 percent of the standards.
But those plans are still being reviewed and are at least a year away from showing up on assessments.
What is different, officials said, is that the opt-out movement that resulted in about 5,000 students skipping the tests last year is much quieter.
The Jefferson Parish school district, which has about 22,000 test takers, this year fielded inquiries from the families of two students about opting out of the exams, according to district spokeswoman Beth Branley.
Five or six students are expected to skip the tests in the Zachary school district, tops in the state for 11 consecutive years.
None have been reported in the West Baton Rouge or West Feliciana parish school systems.
Of 6,913 test takers across nearly all the charter and network schools in Orleans Parish, none had opted out by Friday.
“It is a lot quieter, a lot quieter,” said Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central school system, which had a fair number of test skippers last year.
Officials of the Calcasieu and St. Tammany school districts, which were hotbeds of test jumpers last year, did not return calls for comment.
Kathy Edmonston, a Common Core critic and member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said only a few parishes in her BESE district are stirring.
“It is really quiet,” she said.
Last year’s exams were the culmination of nearly two years of arguments. Backers called the overhaul a needed step to prepare students for college and careers. Opponents said the benchmarks were the latest example of federal overreach.
The issue triggered arguments over two legislative sessions, multiple lawsuits and seemingly endless hearings at BESE, which twice endorsed the overhaul.
Three bills that passed during the 2015 legislative session, including those to review the standards and tweak the tests, are cited for helping to lower the temperature in the runup to this year’s event.
“The state has made some adjustments that helped,” said Wesley Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish school district.
“It has been very quiet,” Watts added. “We are excited. I think it is going to help the testing environment.”
One of the laws enacted last year bans the state from contracting with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, once the source of the Common Core test questions.
PARCC turned into a lightning rod for criticism, including charges that it included questions out of touch with what students in Louisiana have been taught.
State law now limits PARCC-like questions to no more than 49.9 percent of the tests.
Last year, the tests were given in two cycles: March 16-20 and May 4-8.
This year’s version is limited to April 25-29.
Superintendents praised the fact results are due in July instead of October.
“Our principals work 12 months so they can analyze the tests, meet with their teams, set up what needs to be done at the start of school, so we don’t have to wait until nine weeks from when the school year begins,” Faulk said.
Staff writer Jessica Williams contributed to this report. Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.