A bid to let students skip Common Core tests this month without schools being penalized was rejected Thursday by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

BESE turned down the proposal, with four in favor and seven opposed.

Jane Smith, a member of BESE, former superintendent of the Bossier Parish school system and sponsor of the proposed change, said the one-year waiver would ease the “chaos” that threatens schools facing penalties when students opt out of the exams, which are set for March 16-20. “We would go a long way today in giving, I guess, some guidance and some relief to parents and school districts,” Smith said.

“We ought to do this rather than letting the Legislature do this,” she said, a reference to bills proposed for the 2015 Legislature aimed at easing penalties for schools.

State Superintendent of Education John White opposed Smith’s proposal, which he said would run afoul of federal laws that require students to take assessments.

“I think that undoing 16 years of testing policy two weeks before the test is taken is not the way to make policy,” White said.

He noted that, earlier in the day, the same BESE committee approved a policy that requires the state Department of Education later this year to provide a report on how many students skipped the exams and whether rules changes are needed.

How many students plan to avoid the tests is unclear.

“Right now, we are dealing with hypotheticals,” White said. “We need to understand the facts on the ground first.”

Under state rules, students who opt out of the Common Core exams will produce zeroes for their schools and the school district.

Critics contend it is unfair for schools to suffer in state-issued school performance scores when educators have no control over who takes the tests.

The vote was technically limited to a BESE committee.

However, all 11 panel members were on hand, a sign of just how volatile and time-consuming an issue Common Core remains after 18 months of debate.

BESE member Judy Miranti, who opposed Smith’s proposal, said the state has taken a wide range of steps to ease the transition for schools during the move to Common Core, which represents new standards in reading, writing and math.

“The transition policy really covers all of your concerns right now,” Miranti told critics.

BESE member Lottie Beebe, of Breaux Bridge, noted that numerous parents and others appeared at the BESE committee meeting to air their concerns.

“I am saying we have to listen to parents’ concerns, we have to listen to educator concerns,” said Beebe, who is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system.

Kim Fralick, a mother of four students attending schools in Central, said she does not want her children to take the exams.

“I realize this will hurt our school, which I love very much,” Fralick said. “But they are my children.”

Fralick and others complained that BESE is unresponsive to their complaints.

“I don’t believe you are listening,” she told BESE President Chas Roemer, of Baton Rouge.

A total of 10 of Louisiana’s 69 school districts have submitted resolutions to BESE asking them to study the issue, including waiving penalties for schools and districts when students skip.

Stafford Palmieri, assistant chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, said after the meeting that, under the state’s plan, parents risk their children being classified as truants by deciding to hold them out of the tests.

The exams will come from a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

“The absurd result of that is that we put parents in jail for opting out of PARCC,” Palmieri said.

Aside from Smith, those voting to let schools avoid penalties for opt out students were Beebe, of Breaux Bridge; Carolyn Hill, of Baton Rouge; and Mary Harris, of Shreveport.

Voting “no” on the motion were Holly Boffy, of Youngsville; Jim Garvey, of Metairie; Jay Guillot, of Ruston, Miranti, of New Orleans; Kira Orange Jones, of New Orleans; Roemer, of Baton Rouge; and Connie Bradford, of Ruston.

About 300,000 students in grades three through eight are set to take the assessments.

The same BESE committee also approved a policy that would accelerate plans for the state to review math and English standards, which is sure to spark Common Core bickering.

The review, which is normally done every seven years, would include elementary and secondary educators, business and industry leaders and parents.

A report is to be submitted to BESE by the end of the 2015-16 school year.

A BESE committee also voted not to extend the charter contract of Lagniappe Academies, a New Orleans charter school that was the target of a highly critical state report earlier this week.

The study accused the Treme’s school leadership of failing to provide services for students with special needs and attempting to hide that fact from state officials.

The panel also voted to deny the school’s request to move to the Orleans Parish School District at the end of the current school year.

In a marathon day of action, BESE committees also:

  • Approved a $36 million increase request in state aid for public schools for the 2015-16 school year, which is well over Jindal’s virtual freeze proposal
  • Voted to extend for a third cycle — the 2015-16 school year — a policy in which letter grades for public schools will be issued on a curve during the move to Common Core.

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