15 June 2005

Committee action, Jun. 15: HB 575

HB 575 is Rep. Charmaine Marchand’s annual exercise to have used means other than just high-stakes testing to determine whether children should be passed onto the next level. The bill wants to allow those who fail portions of it nonetheless to be passed along by resorting to highly subjective, additional means of “testing.”

Witnesses in favor of it trotted out the same old psychobabble, that the tests “negatively impact” students, that students get “anxiety” that causes “discipline problems” because they get so “frustrated” over trying to pass the exams. Testing “eradicates” thinking skills; children “drop out” because they “can’t pass the test … their lives would change dramatically if they were allowed to graduate.” Believe it or not, “our children are failing because of this test.” And, in the elegant words of one proponent, “How would you feel if your children was expected to take tests they were not prepared for.”

Witnesses against it addressed these points. They spoke on how relying only on the exams were producing results. Not only do they create an incentive to learn more, they also identify areas for remediation. In addition, they create incentives for schools to teach the necessary content to make for a sufficiently educated student. “It would be a disservice to students, to allow students to be promoted without demonstrating proficiency … social promotion does not help children or prepare them for the working world … the diploma should show they have mastery, and the exam shows that,” said BESE official Robin Jarvis.

Rep. Tommy Wright remarked it was a disservice if children pass classes in high school but don’t get diplomas. The whole academic career should not be evaluated on one exam, he argued. Jarvis replied that a main value of the test was to make schools more accountable and related a case where a school valedictorian could not pass the test and made a 14 on the ACT. It forces the schools to improve their services provided to students, and removing the imperative of the exam would cause education quality to deteriorate.

Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow again talked about the loss of self-esteem by failing the tests. Some “just don’t test well.” They said there is too much “teaching to the test” and not genuine instruction. “They feel dumb because they don’t pass the test, and they are not dumb.” She even suggested we could get rid of remediation and save money if we didn’t have the tests as a necessary criterion for graduation. Chairman Carl Crane, however, opined to abandon such efforts would be disastrous for education and economic development resulting thereof.

Jarvis pointed out that there is going to be a small portion of the student population with genuine learning disabilities, and the state has made and is making changes to assure that alternative methods are used for evaluation for this population. She also went over a number of issues that were considered “rough spots” in high-stakes testing that the state has been addressing. She also said states that were removing testing as a requirement were much better at providing education than Louisiana.

Rep. Jim Fannin argued that the bill would have children leading education, not parents and educators. He said it was legislators’ responsibility to facilitate this leadership by keeping the exams’ importance.

Wright offered an amendment to make the bill apply only to high school assessments for graduation. He said an exam should not be the “sole” requirement to graduate (although he didn’t seem to acknowledge that passing classes have something to do with graduating as well; you can score perfectly on the exam but if you don’t pass all your classes, you can’t graduate). Crane argued it would irreparably damage the accountability system. Only Wright voted for his amendment.

Marchand continued to insist that “the children are not failing the tests.” We are “leaving children behind” if they fail, that “we” are failing them. She argued the state needed a core curriculum (there is one already).

Barrow moved to report, but Rep. Hollis Downs’ substitute to defer passed with only Rep. Austin Badon, Barrow, and Wright voting against it. “See you all next year,” Marchand said as she left the room.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’m an all-or-nothing girl.”

Marchand, when explaining why she voted against Wright’s amendment to her bill.

WEDNESDAY: HB 242 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Health and Welfare Committee; HB 631 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee; HB 80 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; HB 613 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee

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