During this year’s legislative session, the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) launched the Time to Learn Campaign to engage members and community stakeholders, lobby legislators, and to ensure passage of bills that aim to reduce testing in schools, among other ESSA-related issues.

“During the session, LAE pursued a set of bills that reigned in the testing obsession that has taken over our educational environment,” says LAE President Debbie Meaux. “It’s an obsession that stifles our teachers’ time to teach, our children’s love of learning, and our communities’ faith in their schools.”

The Time to Learn initiative recently helped drive a bill through both houses of the Legislature that would limit testing by the state and the district to no more than 2 percent of a teacher’s teaching time and students’ learning time. The bill (HB 616), sponsored by state Rep. Polly Thomas, would also require testing audits by districts to prove their adherence to the statute. The bill was sent June 9 to Gov. John Bel Edwards for executive approval.

A second proposal, House Bill 572, was replaced by House Resolution 166, which sets up a testing commission to audit and study all benchmark and standardized testing administered in all Louisiana school districts.

“Everyone is interested in the extent to which we are testing our children,” Meaux says. “Our goal is to reduce testing and ultimately increase the time to learn.”

Laying the Groundwork

The legislative success spearheaded by LAE in the last session is the result of a long history of LAE leaders organizing, mobilizing, and inspiring members and community stakeholders to get active in the legislative process.

For example, in September and October, LAE sponsored a series of community forums where LAE staff and members interacted with more than 750 parents, educators, community members and other stakeholders in nine cities regarding the needs of local public schools. The results of these community conversations were compiled in a report titled, “Ensuring a Better Future for Louisiana’s Children.”

“From these conversations, we found that equity, school accountability, testing, and community schools were of their most immediate interest,” Meaux says.

Now that the data and other testimonies are compiled, this information will be sent to members of the state testing commission for analysis.

“The power of ESSA lies in the hands of local educators,” Meaux says. “If we work together, we can convince lawmakers to explore meaningful reform that will lessen the undue stress that comes with testing.”

From Shreveport, Lafayette and Lake Charles to Baton Rouge, Alexandria, Bogalusa and other parishes in between, Meaux says the mission of community forums is clear: To ensure that student needs and the concerns of educators, parents, and other community stakeholders are included in the state ESSA implementation plan.

“We usually write the bills ourselves and bring it to legislators to ask them for authorship,” she says.  “It’s up to us in the state to make sure the ESSA plan mirrors what is necessary for our kids.”

This September and October, LAE leaders will once again hit the road for a second series of community conversations and town hall meetings across the state with particular regard to student testing.

“We want educators to tell us what they need so we can sponsor the appropriate, relevant legislation,” Meaux says. “We go in and present the problem and ask what it is they want to see in their schools. As a result, we learned that there is a real desire within the state for community schools, a model specifically provided for within ESSA.”

Looking Ahead

Though the Legislature has adjourned for summer, the work of LAE continues.

Says Meaux: “We will continue to elevate the voices of educators far beyond the end of the 2017 session. We are asking our colleagues from across the state to share stories that show how testing has impacted students. We plan to continue soliciting stories to use in our testimony to convince lawmakers to examine state testing mandates. Beyond the session, we will use these personal experiences to drive our efforts on toxic testing reform in other ways.”