11 April 2012

Committee action, Apr. 11: HB 833, HB 834, HB 525, HB 187

HB 833 by Rep. Barbara Norton would dismiss schools when temperatures are expected to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit, because school buses aren’t air conditioned and school boards won’t let them bring water on them. Union official Jackie Lansdale told the House Education Committee said starting school in August, pushed by testing, increased this risk to children’s health and water bottles could not solve for this as they might be used as projectiles, so this should be the solution.

Rep. John Bel Edwards argued that letting out students early might not work out as well, because children might go to homes without air conditioning and also it would disrupt parents work schedules. Norton said if they were let out for ice, then they should be let out for heat, and so should parents. Edwards noted that for winter weather, many employers close for safety reasons, but did not have the same threat for heat. He asked whether school districts had the authority to do this on their own.

Rep. Chris Broadwater noted that local districts did have discretion on dismissals, and thought a mandate in the bill was too restrictive. Lansdale said there were examples of other states that did it on a statewide basis, and thought competition among districts pressured them not to grant them. Broadwater said this bill did not do the same thing as those others, but Lansdale said it did in principle.

Norton closed rehashing her previous arguments after a motion to involuntarily defer the bill. But she didn’t object, and it was done.

HB 834 by Norton would get rid of LEAP testing, end-of-course testing, and GEE testing.
Lansdale said alterations are needed because different states had different standards, and different districts had different resources, and private schools had different standards still in assessing proficiency. That some (private school) students weren’t being tested on these should imply that none should be.

Rep. Thomas Carmody pointed out that some standardization in assessing was needed in order to make valid comparisons. But Lansdale said without other societal problems being addressed, testing of this nature damaged self-esteem and caused students to fail and drop out. Carmody said if these factors were so ameliorative, then there seemed to be no way to constructively utilized testing that would give any valid results. Lansdale said to pass this bill and stop harming children. Carmody said testing was needed to understanding whether children learned.

A special education teacher argued that having these taught too much to the tests, and it did not take into account different learning. He claimed high stakes testing shows no association with other assessment like the ACT, and said it caused students to “fail and fall through the cracks.”

Rep. Alfred Williams didn’t understand how accountability was improved by removing an accountability measure. Norton said the unfairness of it in that some didn’t get tested meant it should be scrapped.

Opponents from the Department of Education and BESE and the governor’s office noted since testing began major gains had been made in achievement, demonstrating their validity and usefulness. They noted this improvement included those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Elimination also would confound federal law, confirming measurement of proficiency and ensuring teachers covered objectives, and put the state in jeopardy for violation. They noted alternative testing was done for those with learning disabilities, and always were willing to adjust, including a move to the Common Core Standards. Also noted was the rules were flexible to take account of many individuals circumstances.

Rep. Patrick Jefferson wondered if structures were in place to help students deal with the pressurized aspect of testing, and if the department would place greater testing emphasis on assessing writing. He was briefed on a number of programs available to assist in preparation and in areas of deficiency, and that the Common Core Standards did put more emphasis on measuring critical thinking in writing.

In closing, Norton let Lansdale say there needed to be valid testing, and that school was a life experience, and anecdotally suggested with new reforms in the offing that might make schooling too much to the exclusive of life activities. Norton then launched on a jeremiad against the recent reforms, then in rambling fashion said students needed to be treated fairly by testing all, or else throw it all out, saying the process, not test, was wrong. She said she and Lansdale would be watching, and “do the right thing” or else they would hurt schools.

It was moved favorably, but objected to. Only three black Democrats, state Reps. Wesley Bishop, Patricia Smith, and Williams present voted in favor. Without objection, it then was involuntarily deferred.

HB 525 by Rep. Regina Barrow would have required community service of public high school graduates. But she decided because that might be onerous in some cases, she wanted to substitute a bill to create a diploma endorsement for this. Apparently, access to getting hours of this because of transportation issues, work requirements, and rural area opportunities might make it too difficult. She added she would like to make it a requirement in the future, to which Smith encouraged.

Without objection, the substitute was adopted, and reported by substitute.

HB 187 by Rep. Truck Gisclair would make those who make more than 50 telephone calls about an issue to a government official or agency register as lobbyists and pay a nominal fee. Supporters argued to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that these tactics used government resources and would increase transparency.

Rep. Taylor Barras wondered whether this would work the other way concerning legislators, and that the number might be high. Rep. Johnny Berthelot agreed and suggested the number at 500. He said nobody wanted to be inundated by calls and create more work for legislative staffs, but that the number of 50 might be low.

Julie Cherry of the state AFL-CIO said this tactic was a valuable tool in letting legislators know about issues and should not be onerous for organizations to pursue it, to give out valuable information to legislators. She also thought this my overburden ethics overseers.

Chairman Tim Burns opined this was too broad and threatened too many unintended consequences. He also said this activity did get reported in other ways. Supporters argued this “leveled the playing field,” and that this activity was “getting out of hand,” stressing it was just reporting and not stopping contact.

Rep. Mike Danahay asked Gisclair to voluntarily defer so they could work on these issues, and he agreed.

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