Education panelists volley positions on student testing measures tied to Common Core _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- From left, Jay Jackson, chairman of the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council, Sandra Billeaudeau, assistant superintendent of Lafayette Parish Schools, Heather Blanchard, co-founder of Parents Empowered, a parishwide parent-teacher organization and Toby Daspit, president of the Power of Public Education Lafayette participate in an Acadiana Press Club meeting at the Daily Advertiser in Lafayette.

A group of education advocates debated the merits of student testing generally and tests specifically tied to the controversial new Common Core state standards at an Acadiana Press Club forum Tuesday.

The state’s implementation of Common Core and the tests tied to it have come under fire from legislators, parents, educators and even Gov. Bobby Jindal, who previously supported the new learning standards.

Louisiana is part of a consortium of 10 other states and the District of Columbia called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — PARCC — that has agreed to adopt tests to make state-by-state comparisons easier. The exams are referred to as PARCC tests. Locally, at least 13 students won’t take the exams at their parents’ request.

Panelist Toby Daspit, president of the Power of Public Education Lafayette, questioned the effectiveness of PARCC when so few states are participating in the consortium.

“We won’t get a reliable indicator,” said Daspit, an associate professor of educational curriculum and instruction at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“No one is using PARCC to decide who gets into college. … If PARCC were so valid and reliable, then why are so few states doing it?” Daspit questioned later in the forum.

Jay Jackson, chairman of the Lafayette Parish Public Education Stakeholders Council, though, said it’s important for Louisiana students to be put in a position to be competitive with others in a global job market.

Louisiana’s standards for assessing students might have been adequate to meet the needs 50 years ago, he said, but more rigorous standards comparable to those of other states are needed now.

Jackson and Daspit were joined by Lafayette Parish Schools Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billeaudeau and Heather Blanchard, co-founder of Parents Empowered, a districtwide parent organization, for Tuesday’s panel focused on PARCC testing and an option for parents to request that their children not take the test.

Blanchard said her group has reached out to parents to try to educate them about the benefits of having their children tested.

“Why not do it so we can see where they stand?” Blanchard asked.

She said the assessments are a way for parents to ensure their children are being challenged and prepared for the future.

In Louisiana, students in third through eighth grade will take the first phase of PARCC next month and the second phase in May. The PARCC assessment is in English, writing and math. In April, students will take the LEAP or iLEAP test to gauge their science and social studies skills.

In Lafayette, about 13,000 third- through eighth-graders will take the tests. At least 13 Lafayette Parish school students won’t take the PARCC test because their parents have opted out of the exams.

Daspit said that while his group has not taken an official stand on PARCC, he views the national opt-out movement as a thoughtful one led by parents. He said his group, Power of Public Education Lafayette, will hold a public forum March 11 at the Picard Center on the extensive testing students in the Lafayette Parish School System face throughout the school year.

Assessments are part of education, Daspit said, but should be used to assess where students are and to provide them with additional instruction, if needed. They shouldn’t be used to grade schools or teachers, Daspit said.

Billeaudeau said she respects parents’ right to choose whether or not to have their children tested. She said the test is a way to compare the state to national standards and ensure students can compete in a “global marketplace.”

“We are PARCC-ready,” she said. “Our teachers have been working hard. Our students have been working hard.”

Last month, school system officials asked local legislators for their help to protect schools from any penalties associated with students opting out of the exams. Based on current policy, schools will receive a zero for those students who opt out of the exams.

At a superintendents’ advisory council meeting earlier this month, Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White confirmed that schools will receive zeroes for those students who don’t take the test due to parental opt-outs.

More than a dozen school boards across the state, including Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin and St. Mary, have passed resolutions asking that schools not be penalized for students who don’t take the test at their parents’ request.

The issue has already led to prefiled legislation for the session that begins on April 13. State Rep. Bob Hensgens, R-Abbeville, has prefiled HB 22, which would prohibit any penalties associated with students not taking the tests at their parents’ request.

Jackson said he agrees with Daspit that students are over­tested, but said “at the end of the day, our kids have to learn.”

While some states have pulled out of PARCC, he asked what alternative the state would turn to and questioned whether the state could afford to go back to the drawing board. He pointed to South Carolina as one of the states that’s ditched the consortium.

“(South Carolina) has spent $100 million already trying to come up with their own standards. … I don’t know if Louisiana with our budget situation has the money to go back and do it again.”

Follow Marsha Sills on Twitter, @Marsha_Sills.