Three of four contenders for governor Tuesday blasted the hot button push for new academic standards called Common Core during a forum in Shreveport.

The critics are Democrat state Rep. John Bel Edwards, of Amite, who said he has never flip-flopped on the issue, and Republicans David Vitter and Scott Angelle.

“We can have high standards without Common Core, we all know that,” Edwards said.

Vitter, a U.S. senator from Metairie and a former Common Core backer, reiterated his newfound opposition to the overhaul, including the accompanying tests called PARCC. “We need to get out of the Common Core umbrella and the PARCC test,” Vitter said.

Angelle, a member of the Public Service Commission, offered his first views on the new guidelines in reading, writing and math. He said he does not think Common Core has a monopoly on high academic achievement.

Angelle, who lives in Breaux Bridge, also said the number of states that plan to offer PARCC tests has dropped from 26 to 14 amid controversy on the revamped classroom goals.

Only Republican Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne repeated his support for Common Core, and left no doubt that he is the sole pro-Common Core contender in the field. “Now is not the time for Louisiana to retreat,” said Dardenne, who lives in Baton Rouge.

“To slam the brakes on right now, to pledge we are going to change in the middle of the stream, is the wrong thing to do,” he added.

Dardenne, former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it would cost the state up to $20 million to come up with new exams amid a $1.6 billion shortfall to retain current spending levels.

“These are merely standards by which students are going to be compared,” Dardenne said. “We ought not to fear that.”

The comments came during a two-hour forum at the 77th annual convention of the Louisiana Schools Boards Association.

More than 500 school board members and superintendents were expected despite a winter storm that crippled Shreveport on Monday and Tuesday.

The event marked the second time that all four contenders for governor exchanged views during a two-hour forum.

They discussed state road and bridge issues at a Baton Rouge hotel in January.

All four hope to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who cannot seek a third consecutive term.

The new standards have been daily fare in public schools since August.

The first round of Common Core tests that count are set for about 300,000 students in grades three through eight on March 16-20.

Common Core has sparked criticism from the LSBA and will be a key topic during the 2015 regular legislative session, which begins on April 13.

Edwards, whose previous stance on the issue caused confusion, said he opposes Common Core and that it promotes what he said is already too much reliance on quizzes.

“We test kids too much in our state already,” he said. “That doesn’t change under Common Core.”

Edwards said last August that “the standards themselves are fine” and that “this isn’t some federal takeover of education,” a recurring complaint among opponents of the overhaul.

In a telephone interview after the debate, the Democrat said his comments on Tuesday do not represent any change of views since then. “I try to be consistent and to be nuanced,” he said.

Edwards said that during the 2014 legislative session he backed a key anti-Common Core bill in the House Education Committee.

“I have never supported adopting the Common Core standards in wholesale fashion in Louisiana,” he said.

Common Core was approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2010 and 2014.

The standards were crafted by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which includes superintendents nationwide.

Vitter, who said he wants a blue-ribbon panel of parents, teachers and others to draft new standards, said one of the key problems with the rollout of Common Core was the lack of input from rank-and-file citizens.

“That will absolutely not happen under my watch,” he said.

In another area, state-issued letter grades for Louisiana’s roughly 1,300 public schools came under fire during the forum.

The grades, another volatile topic in education circles, are based on how students fare on key tests.

Angelle said the state needs to stop issuing the marks until the methodology is improved.

He also said the state Department of Education should be subject to an annual grade by the Legislative Auditor.

“Because if it is good for the branch office it is good for the home office,” Angelle said.

Edwards said he opposed the letter grades when they cleared the Legislature.

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