Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Louisiana Common Core Standards Compromise

Both houses of the Legislature have now approved a combination of three bills that require BESE to review and revise the Louisiana state standards for English Language Arts and mathematics and submit them to the legislature for its review by March 4th 2016. Governor Jindal has indicated that he will sign the compromise bills into law.  If you click on each bill number, you may view the full text of each bill along with a summary interpretation of the changes to the law produced by each. The bills are: HB 373, HB 542 and SB 43.

The three bills taken together require BESE to hold open public meetings in each congressional district starting after July 1, 2015 that would theoretically allow public input into the revision of the ELA and math standards. During approximately the same time period, BESE and the LDOE must approve new contracts for the development and implementation of new state tests in ELA and math for the Spring of 2016. One of the new laws prohibits LDOE and BESE from contracting with the PARCC consortium for the development of the Spring 2016 tests. Also, these tests for grades 3 through 10 cannot include more than 49.9% of the PARCC consortium questions. There is no stipulation in the new law about where or how the rest of the questions on state tests for ELA and Math will be derived or formulated.

The revised standards for ELA and math must be submitted to the House and Senate Education Committees by March 4th 2016 and may be adopted or rejected in globo by the legislature. Also, the new governor may veto or approve the new standards but cannot make changes to them.

There is no mention in the legislation about how BESE will actually write the new standards or how members of the teaching profession or members of the public may participate in this writing process except by providing input into the public meetings that must be conducted in accordance with the open meetings law and the administrative procedures act.

It should be noted however, that BESE and the LDOE have already set into motion a process for the review and revision of state standards and testing to be completed during the 2015-16 school year. In that process there will be several committees involved in the review and writing process that include both professional educators and members of the public. It is my understanding that this process will continue even though the timelines may be shortened because of the deadlines in the new laws above. The June meeting of BESE will probably make adjustments in the revision procedure to comply with the new laws.

Now I will attempt to describe how this will all work out in practice. I believe that BESE and the LDOE will continue with their process of allowing input into the standards revisions by the committees that are scheduled to be approved by BESE at its June meeting. Certain subcommittees will probably be assigned the job of actually writing the proposed standards.  Even though the new legislation specifies that BESE, not the Department of Ed, will write the standards, based on my observations of past BESE committees, chances are these committees will be tightly controlled and guided by LDOE staff. Since there is so much work to do in such a short time, chances are the actual work will be done by just a few professionals with much guidance from the LDOE staff and then the full committees will be asked to approve or modify the result. The writing committees will probably look to some combination of the old Louisiana Grade Level Expectations (GLEs) and the new CCSS standards for actual wording of the new standards. BESE will probably end up with some hybrid comprised of those two systems.

One of the most significant complaints about the CCSS, is that much of the material is not age appropriate for our younger students. I hope the writing committees will tackle this issue and make the adjustments that our early childhood practitioners recommend. There are some serious objections by parents and educators about some of the unorthodox and confusing methods of working math problems and similar objections about the close reading methods and materials that were used in Common Core ELA standards. It remains to be seen if these problems will be corrected.

But unfortunately the elephant in the room for these education decision makers that has been ignored is the extreme over-emphasis on annual standardized testing and test prepping of our students. This test mania mandated by our legislature and BESE and the grading of schools based on test results is forcing our teachers to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort just preparing kids for tests. It is killing the joy of teaching and learning for teachers and students; it is pedagogically unsound; it violates many of the more natural and effective methods of passing on culture and knowledge to our young; and it does not prepare young people for the real world! The most educationally advanced countries in the world are not using this insane approach to education.  Not only is this test mania bad for children, but how can we attract the best and brightest young people to the teaching profession if most of their working day will be relegated to test teaching? How can we justify sacrificing the arts, social studies, geography, foreign languages, inquiry learning in science, technical education and even physical education (when we have the most obese and nutrition deprived student population in history)? What kind of a job market is there for a morbidly obese young adult whose only skill is taking standardized tests?

As an educator, I appreciate greatly the effort of the legislature to totally revise or even dispose of the Common Core Standards. These standards were poorly designed and are creating chaos all over the country.  But I am also very concerned about the lack of deliberative planning in this process and the continued mandate of standardized testing for next Spring when teachers have no idea what will be on the test!