In the largest protest to date, 776 students in the Lake Charles area plan to skip Common Core tests this month, the executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association said Friday.

However, the state’s top school board did not reopen debate on the issue, one day after it spent three hours arguing on whether schools and districts should be punished when students opt out of the exams.

Scott Richard, the top official for the LSBA, said the large number of students who plan to avoid the tests in southwest Louisiana was reason for the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to take another look at the issue.

Richard said the superintendent of the Calcasieu Parish school district asked him to request such a move.

“This is not a hypothetical,” he said. “These are real concrete numbers.”

State Superintendent of Education John White said the Lake Charles contingent represents 0.2 percent of test takers statewide.

“We don’t just govern two schools,” White said. “We govern 1,400 schools.”

Students who skip the test will produce zeros for their schools and school districts, which could affect school performance scores.

Richard said those who plan to avoid the exams include 318 elementary and 458 middle school students — 6 percent of those scheduled to be tested. “That’s a lot of zero scores,” he told BESE.

Some BESE members contend it is unfair to penalize schools because they have no control on who takes the exams.

However, a bid to waive penalties this year failed at a BESE meeting Thursday on a 4-7 vote.

BESE member Jane Smith, who lives in Bossier City and sponsored the waiver proposal, said Friday she did not push to renew debate on the issue Friday because she did not think the outcome would change.

Calcasieu Parish school district Superintendent Karl Bruchhaus was unavailable for comment, according to a spokeswoman for the district.

The tests are set for March 16-20.

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

BESE voted on Thursday to require that the state Department of Education report later this year on how many students avoided the exams and whether state policies need to be changed. “Let’s just wait until we have the numbers, and then we can have this conversation,” White said.

The heavy number of opt-out students in the Lake Charles area is in the home territory of state Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Lake Charles and one of the Legislature’s top critics of Common Core.

Richard said 35 students plan to sidestep Common Core tests in the Lafayette Parish school district.

BESE member Lottie Beebe, who also is superintendent of the St. Martin Parish school system, said Thursday that two students plan to opt out in that district.

In other action, BESE approved a $36 million increase in state aid for public schools and new rules for how public school teachers are evaluated, including less reliance on the growth of student achievement.

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