A bill that would allow students to skip key state tests, with parental permission, was soundly rejected Wednesday by the House Education Committee.
The measure got three “yes” votes and 12 “no” votes.
Critics said the legislation would undercut a key part of Louisiana’s public school accountability system, and likely spark federal sanctions for failing to comply with testing requirements.
“This is allowing schools to avoid accountability,” said Erin Bendily, an assistant deputy superintendent for the state Department of Education.
The proposal is House Bill 901.
One chief target of the bill is LEAP, which fourth and eighth-graders have to pass for promotion.
LEAP is aimed at ensuring that students master basic skills in math and English before they move to the fifth and ninth grades.
It was launched in part to end social promotions.
State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, and sponsor of the bill, couched her plan as one of parental choice, much like recently passed bills that will allow some students to attend private and parochial schools with state aid.
Smith noted that, under current rules, students who use state vouchers to attend private schools are not required to pass LEAP for promotion.
“I just ask for your favorable consideration of the bill, to allow parental choice,” Smith said.
Under the bill, parents could inform the school that they did not want their children to take the test.
Neither the school nor the student could be penalized for the action.
Stephanie Desselle, who specializes in public school issues for the Council for a Better Louisiana, said there are numerous reasons not to allow students to avoid the tests with parental permission.
Desselle noted that the exams are aimed at seeing if students master minimal skills.
“We don’t test on national standards,” Desselle said. “Our standards are below national standards.”
Desselle said, before the state began the tests just over a decade ago, “we really didn’t know how well our kids were doing.
“What we found at the time is that we really weren’t doing a good job at all,” she said. “It was abysmal and children suffer.”
Bendily said testing requirements are made by the U.S. Department of Education, and require a 95 percent participation rate.
School districts that fail to follow the rules would run afoul of federal school laws, she said.
“And that is going to put a lot of districts in a very bad situation,” Bendily said.
Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, urged the panel to approve Smith’s bill.
Monaghan said that, under current plans, the state will spend money to require some public school students to take the tests while spending other tax dollars for students to attend private schools, where passage is not required for promotion.
“I don’t think this body likes to be in such an illogical posture as that,” he said.
Voting FOR the bill (3): State Reps. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge.
Voting AGAINST the bill (12): State Reps. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge; Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond; Henry Burns, R-Haughton; Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Simone Champagne, R-Jeanerette; John Bel Edwards, D-Amite; Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville; Patrick Jefferson, D-Arcadia; Dee Richard, No Party-Thibodaux; John Schroder, R-Covington; Rob Shadoin, R-Ruston and Jeff Thompson, R-Bossier City.