By SONIA SMITH
Advocate staff writer
Published: Jul 1, 2007 - Page: 1B
Protesters at the State Capitol lashed out Saturday at Louisiana’s standardized testing requirements, but state education officials fired back with a strongly worded statement defending their education policies.
The standardized tests in question are the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, administered to public school students in the fourth and eighth grades. Without passing this “high-stakes” exam, a student cannot advance to the next grade.
State Superintendent of Education Paul G. Pastorek and President Linda Johnson of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education asserted their strong support for the exams, calling them a “catalyst for academic improvement.”
Ernest Johnson, president of the Louisiana National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, organized the two-hour march and rally attended by an estimated several hundred people.
Ernest Johnson said he wanted to bring awareness that Louisiana laws do not require standardized testing for students to move on to the next grade.
When enacting the legislation requiring the tests, the Legislature intended for the exams to be assessment tools used to gauge students’ abilities, he said.
It was BESE that made the decision to hinge advancing to the next grade on the test results, he said.
As a result, 28,000 students were held back because of failing the LEAP tests this year, Ernest Johnson said.
“So many have been impacted, have been crushed,” Ernest Johnson said.
But education officials disagreed with him.
“It is grossly unfair to send children to the next grade level if they are not ready,” Pastorek said a statement issued in response to the march and rally. “It would be like throwing a child into the deep end of the pool knowing that they had not passed basic swimming lessons.”
LEAP was implemented in 1998 to curb social promotion practices and lower achievement gaps between black and white students in Louisiana schools, the state officials said.
Louisiana was the first state to set minimum promotion standards for fourth and eighth grades and education officials are proud of the strides made since then, the statement said.
The Louisiana Supreme Court found LEAP testing to be fair when a legal challenge was brought in 1998, Pastorek and Linda Johnson said.
The march began at 9 a.m. in the shade of the trees across from the Governor’s Mansion. Marchers sang “We Shall Overcome,” an anthem of the civil rights movement, as they approached the granite steps of the State Capitol.
Among the marchers was Anquita Trim, 28, whose 12-year-old daughter, Tatiana Wallace, may have to repeat fourth grade at Marydale Elementary School for the third time this fall. It all depends on whether she passed a retake of the LEAP exam given this summer.
Tatiana does well with her coursework during the school year, Trim said.
“I really believe it is the pressure of the test that’s really the problem,” Trim said.
“I’m really glad someone’s standing up. It’s hot (out here) but it’s worth it,” Trim said.
Ernest Johnson’s daughter, Taylor, 14, who will enter ninth grade at Central High School in the fall, said that 23 of her friends failed the LEAP test this year.
Many speakers at the rally bristled that BESE did not require private school students to take the test.
Lanny Roy, state vice president of the Louisiana Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, marched alongside the parents.
“To stop these children from graduating and going to college, when private schools don’t have it, that’s unjust, that’s unfair,” Roy said.
“You cannot get a job without a high school diploma anymore,” said the Rev. Joseph Riley of Plaquemine, another marcher. The tests are just “putting more people out on the streets to become thugs.”
NAACP members were walking around during the rally with clipboards and voter registration forms. The organization members said they hope to bring out the vote to oust the eight BESE members up for re-election this fall.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Hundreds March Against LEAP Failure in Baton Rouge