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Louisiana State Board Moves Closer to Suing Gov. Jindal Over PARCC Tests

The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 6-3 on July 1 to retain legal counsel and prepare for a possible lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal over his move to stop the state from giving an assessment aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

The vote by the state board members is the latest move in the Pelican State's war over the common core and the assessments being developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. The majority of the state board, along with Superintendent John White, believes that it has the legal authority—and the contract with a separate company, Data Recognition Corporation—to administer the PARCC test in the 2014-15 school year.

Jindal, a Republican, argues that the state's contract with Data Recognition Corporation, precludes White and the state board from purchasing the PARCC test.

Last month, Jindal announced his official move—an executive order—to get the state to drop PARCC, and also announced his support for the state to develop its own standards. But the subsequent battle has focused on the PARCC assessments. White and the state board chairman, Chas Roemer, have refused to yield to the governor's demands.

In remarks during a nearly six-hour state board meeting, White said that state officials have arrived an an impasse "where finance and purchasing have collided with academic policy." Ultimately, he said, the battle comes down to who has authority over testing procurement.

Late last month, Jindal's chief counsel, Thomas Enright, issued legal opinion that nothing in Louisiana law requires the state to use the common core or PARCC. But White shot back that this absence of explicit legal authority means that the state board has the power to make those decisions for Louisiana. 

Responding to the state board's move to hire outside counsel, Kristy Nichols, the governor's Commissioner of Administration, who is investigating the state's relationship with PARCC on Jindal's orders, was unimpressed, Times-Picayune reporter Danielle Dreilinger reported: "Today's action boils down to one simple thing: BESE voted to hire outside counsel to determine if the Department of Education should follow state procurement law. We think the law should be followed."

The state legislature refused this year to approve bills that would have ended the state's use of common core or PARCC. 

At one point, board member Jane Smith, one of the three board members appointed by Jindal (the other eight are elected), tried to get the board to embrace continuing with its current assessment, known as LEAP, for the 2014-15 school year while the questions about PARCC were sorted out.

That's an idea supported by the Louisiana School Boards Association and others because, they say, LEAP is already aligned to the common core. The state education department said that the LEAP tests were altered in 2013-14 to include more common-core items, although it stopped short of saying the tests were completely aligned in the way that PARCC is expected to be. White also said giving those tests again in 2014-15 would cause logistical problems and create additional costs.

In any event, the board swatted down the idea of administering LEAP tests again through a 6-3 vote.

While the state board and Jindal are moving close to a legal wrangle over the test, the uncertainty over which tests students will take leaves teachers up in the air about what to teach. 

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