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Common Core testing contracts steered to closed-door review

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is scrutinizing the education department's testing contract plans, giving them a closed-door review Friday as the two sides remain in a dispute over the Common Core standards.

The education department is planning to hire new contractors to handle Common Core-related standardized testing for public school students. The Jindal administration steered the agency's proposals to seek contract bids to an arcane review process, called a Procurement Support Team, which is not always used for state contract proposals.

Reporters for The Associated Press and The Advocate who sought to sit in on the review were asked to leave the meeting by Pamela Rice, assistant director of state procurement for Jindal's Division of Administration.

"We don't consider this a public meeting," Rice said. "This is not a public body."

Jindal and Education Superintendent John White have clashed repeatedly over the Common Core education standards over the last year. The governor wants to end Louisiana's use of the multistate math and English standards and unsuccessfully tried to stymie contracts that White used to administer Common Core tests this year.

Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said the contracts going out for bid will total tens of millions of dollars and may last as long as 12 years. She said the added review is "used for the intent to make sure that contracts follow the state procurement law and offer the fairest competition for all vendors."

She said allowing the public into the meeting could improperly give sensitive information to competitors seeking the contract before a final version of the request for bids is drafted.

An estimated 320,000 Louisiana public school students in third grade through eighth grade took the Common Core tests for the first time in March. But the contracts to handle the development and scoring of the tests are expiring. The Department of Education is looking for new contractors for those and other standardized tests that public school students take.

The Common Core standards have been adopted by more than 40 states as a way to better prepare students for college and careers. Opponents say the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education.

Jindal is asking lawmakers to strip Common Core from Louisiana classrooms, but in prior years, lawmakers have refused to do so. White and the state education board also have rejected attempts to jettison the multistate standards.

Nichols said because of the high level of attention to the testing contracts, the contracting process will be closely analyzed.

She said the additional review will provide impartiality, because it involves representatives of the attorney general's office and the Legislative Fiscal Office, in addition to the Jindal administration and the education department.

"Going through the (Procurement Support Team) is a way to ensure that everybody is accountable," Nichols said. "This should not be a controversial topic with requiring this level of scrutiny on multimillion-dollar contracts. It's designed to protect everyone. It's designed to protect the competitive process."

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