Louisiana Juggling Common Core, Immigrant Influx, Testing

Everybody is talking about Common Core, but how many people know what the standards are? Louisiana State Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's office released this week a bipartisan overview of the English and math standards used in Louisiana's public school classrooms, and The News-Times explains that the 30-page report helps clear the confusion by describing the development of the standards, giving samples of changed teaching methods, and sharing other state's use of Common Core. Lawsuits filed against the standards in Louisiana are included, as well.

The Common Core, which explains what students should know by the end of each grade-level, have been adopted by more than 40 states, including Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal is opposed to the standards and says the Obama administration has manipulated the Common Core usage to attempt to control state education policy and curriculum.

State schools Superintendent John White says that the new Common Core standardized test will be given in Spanish and English this coming March. Julia O'Donoghue, writing for The Times Picayune, reports that the test that Louisiana uses in conjunction with the Common Core is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Any newly arrived immigrants who are still in the process of learning English may take the test in Spanish for the first two years they are enrolled. After that, students must switch to the English version of the test.

Louisiana, like many other states, has seen an influx of students from Central and South America. Over 1,200 were placed in Louisiana homes when they were found crossing into the US along the southern border. Deportation hearings for the children could take up to a year to schedule, and in the meantime schools have a Constitutional responsibility to provide them with an education.

The largest number of Spanish-speaking students in Louisiana has been seen in Jefferson Parish, with a 500-student increase in new immigrant children. Other affected Parishes include Orleans, St. Tammany, East Baton Rouge, and Lafayette.

Previously, standardized testing in Louisiana did not have a Spanish option because developing such a translation in a small state like Louisiana would have been too expensive. Since the PARCC test is used across several states, the cost of the translation can be shouldered by the combined states, says White.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has been an opponent of the assessment, as have several other states. Jindal says the test "reflects the cultural values of northern, liberal states", not those of Louisiana. Jindal, in fact tried to block the use of PARRC, but was unsuccessful. A state judge ruled against Jindal, saying he had acted inappropriately in blocking the purchase of the test. The governor is appealing, but White and the state school board have already moved forward for the testing in March.

In Calcasieu Parish, many students learn in both English and Spanish. Fairview Elementary is the home to the English Language Learner Program, where teachers like Laurie Cunningham work with students whose native language is Spanish. Haley Rush, reporter for KSLA-TV, says that Cunningham is glad that the PARCC will be given in Spanish this year. She says it will help her instruction and how her students learn.

"Our ultimate goal is to transition them to English but to still maintain their Spanish culture and language at home and here at school," said Cunningham. "We embrace it."

Because of the Spanish test option, Cunningham says she will be able to tell if a problem that a student is having is cognitive or is based on the language barrier. She is happy that her students will get a chance to feel confident when testing.

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