Wading into a statewide controversy, six candidates for Louisiana’s top school board said Tuesday night the state is taking too long in releasing Common Core test scores.
“No question, they need to be here more quickly,” said Jason Engen, a Republican candidate for the District 6 slot on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which is now held by BESE President Chas Roemer.
Engen, Republicans Kathy Edmonston, Laree Taylor and Etta Licciardi and Libertarian Jason France are running for the seat held by Roemer, who is not seeking a third term.
In District 8, which like District 6 covers the Baton Rouge area, incumbent Carolyn Hill is being challenged by fellow Democrat Jada Lewis.
Lewis agreed with Engen.
“We need to review that timeline,” she said. “It is too long.”
When and how the test results are released has sparked controversy for weeks, and pitted state Superintendent of Education John White against dozens of local superintendents, including Hollis Milton, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
White has said the state is following a timeline outlined 11 months ago, and that superintendents and others knew when students, parents and school districts could expect the results.
Preliminary statewide figures are set to be released on Monday.
Detailed scores are supposed to be available for students and families during the week of Nov. 9.
Milton and others have charged that the state Department of Education has needlessly sat on results of the exams, and that even raw test scores would aid students and teachers now.
All six of the candidates for the District 6 and District 8 BESE seats who appeared at a 90-minute forum said the state needs to do a better job of letting students know how they fared on exams taken in March and May.
France said the test results “are completely useless” because of how much time has passed since students took them.
“It is used for grading schools and which ones are failing schools,” he said of the Common Core data.
He said his daughter spends one-third of her time in school taking tests, which he called excessive and an issue that stems from management problems at the state Department of Education, where he worked for nine years.
Hill noted that she and others have asked White for raw test results.
She said parents have been left in the dark and teachers are frustrated because of White’s timetable.
“If it was up to me you would have it,” Hill told Belinda Davis, a parent and the panelist who raised the topic.
Taylor also questioned how long the state is taking to release test scores.
“It is certainly something that needs to be addressed,” Taylor said.
Edmonston said White “will not release scores that need to be released.”
Edmonston also said the issue is part of a much bigger problem: how Common Core was put in place in Louisiana.
“The implementation of the Common Core state standards was a disaster,” she said.
Licciardi did not appear at the forum because she said she had a prior commitment.
In another area, two BESE candidates said White should be replaced and a third came close.
“My statement would be he does need to be dismissed,” said Hill, who has often clashed with the superintendent during her nearly four years on the panel.
France, who has blasted White and the department in back-to-back forums, agreed.
Edmonston stopped just short of calling for a new superintendent.
She noted that the new BESE will review White’s status in January. “I am looking forward to that,” she said.
White, who has held the job since 2012, has said he loves the post and hopes to stay when a new board is seated.
Engen said White may deserve to remain. “Could it be White? Perhaps,” he said.
Taylor said she does not believe in calling for a new superintendent on the basis of one issue, and said the state has made education progress in recent years and she is fearful of that being reversed.
Lewis said she has no opinion on White’s job status, but noted that he has gotten positive reviews from BESE.
The panelists were Davis, president of One Community, One School District; Mary Washington, former president of the Louisiana Association of Educators; Sherry Guarisco, executive director of the Louisiana Partnership for Children and Families; and Nancy Roberts, executive director of the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators.
The gathering marks the second forum in both races in the past two weeks.
On Sept. 23, Hill and Lewis exchanged views for an hour at Baton Rouge Magnet High School.
On Sept. 30, all five contenders for the District 6 post were on hand for a 90-minute forum at Woodlawn High School.
The two races are among eight on the Oct. 24 primary ballot. Early voting begins Saturday.
At least six will be decided then since only two candidates are on the ballot in those races.
Runoffs will be needed on Nov. 21 in the two others, including District 6, unless one of the contenders collects at least 50 percent of the vote plus one.
BESE has 11 members.
Eight are elected and three are appointed by the governor.
The panel sets policies for about 720,000 public school students statewide.
The forum was sponsored by Leaders With Vision.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.