After months of battles in the Legislature, courts and school boards, Louisiana public school students are in final preparations for the initial round of tests on Common Core.
About 300,000 students in grades three through eight are set to take the exams March 16-20, something of a watershed event after bitter arguments for the past 17 months that show no signs of letting up.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former Common Core advocate turned opponent, and critics in the Louisiana Legislature plan to make another push to abolish the overhaul when the 2015 Legislature convenes on April 13.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education may grapple with the issue again when it meets on March 5-6.
And final test preparations are underway amid threats of boycotts of the exams by some parents who view the tougher standards in reading, writing and math as an unfair intrusion in local school issues by state and federal officials.
“We are parents of two in Bossier Parish, and we as a family are opting out,” said Don and Nobia Quinn in an email.
But in classrooms statewide, students and teachers are spending the next five weeks reviewing key materials and grappling with sample questions.
“We feel confident,” said Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the highly rated Ascension Parish school system.
Wesley Watts, superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District, is more cautious.
“We feel like we are doing about as well as we can,” Watts said. “There are still a lot of unknowns.”
Central School System Superintendent Michael Faulk, like some of his colleagues, bristles over what he calls late-arriving assistance on test preparations from the state Department of Education.
“The concern my teachers have had, and they have expressed it to me and I have expressed it to the department, is they want to provide their students with (information) that prepares the students, and they feel for a while they were not getting access to things that could help them,” Faulk said.
Scott Richard, executive director of the Louisiana School Boards Association, echoed that concern.
“I think the fact the department as the end of January is still in the process of releasing test prep materials has caused a lot of concern in some areas,” Richard said.
Barry Landry, a spokesman for the department, said the latest assistance from the department is part of a stream of materials that has been sent to districts for months, including sample questions released a year ago, questions and tasks for students released in October and support for principals, schools and teachers unveiled in November.
Even as students get ready for the tests, legal arguments continue on efforts to scuttle exam plans.
The ruling that paved the way for the March test dates came on Aug. 23, when 19th Judicial District Court Judge Todd Hernandez issued an injunction to lift the Jindal administration’s suspension of two state test contracts needed to quiz students on Common Core.
However, the Hernandez ruling failed to quell arguments over the standards.
BESE member Mary Harris, of Shreveport, tried in early January to get the test issue on the board’s March agenda.
That move failed.
Now Harris and three other BESE members want a special meeting on test plans, including what happens to school and district performance scores when students skip the exams.
Vows to do so have surfaced in a smattering of districts, including DeSoto, Bossier, Calcasieu and Lafayette parishes.
Trey Folse III, superintendent of the St. Tammany Parish School District, where anti-Common Core sentiment has been heavy, did not return calls for comment.
A spokeswoman for the district said Common Core test plans will be an item on the board’s meeting agenda Monday at 7 p.m.
Superintendents in Ascension, Central, Zachary, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana and St. Bernard parishes said they were unaware of any such planned protests.
Hollis Milton, superintendent of the highly rated West Feliciana Parish school district, said initial Common Core exams are the culmination of a process that began in August 2013.
“Our parents have been very calm,” Milton said.
Scott Devillier, superintendent of the top-rated Zachary School District, said that other than one mom who raised questions, possible exam boycotts are not an issue.
“We don’t spend a whole lot of time teaching to the test,” Devillier said. “We just teach kids.”
Jindal on Friday urged BESE to let districts offer alternate assessments for students who opt out of Common Core exams.
BESE President Chas Roemer waved off the request.
The questions will come from a consortium called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
Results will be available in the fall and allow for state-to-state comparisons.
St. Bernard Parish School District Superintendent Doris Voitier, like others, applauded the state’s decision to rely on paper and pencil for the first tests instead of original plans for some students to use computers.
“There was some unease about it, some unease on whether every district was ready,” said Voitier, who is president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.