Standardized testing, out-of-school suspensions and closing troubled public schools all came under fire Wednesday night during a forum in the race for an open seat on Louisiana’s top school board.
The contest is for the Baton Rouge-based District 6 slot on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education held by Chas Roemer, who opted not to seek a third term.
One issue that sparked widespread criticism is whether the state’s current series of exams serves students and teachers.
Etta Licciardi, one of the candidates, said standardized tests are needed.
“However, I don’t think Louisiana is doing a good job of that,” Licciardi said.
“Common Core is a problem,” she said. “We need to start over.”
Jason France, another contender for the post, said current testing procedures are “absolutely not” good indicators.
Children who live in poverty will not do as well, France said.
Laree Taylor, who also is running for the job, disagreed.
Taylor, a 31-year educator, said she has worked with students from impoverished backgrounds.
“The vast majority were successful on state tests,” she said.
Kathy Edmonston, another candidate at the forum, echoed those who faulted current test procedures.
Edmonston, who works in the Ascension Parish school system, said she watches children “drowning” academically every day.
“We cannot have a one-size- fits-all,” she said. “We are doing entirely too much testing.”
Out-of-school suspensions, another topic that has been debated in the Legislature, also sparked criticism.
Edmonston called such action punitive and one that students sometimes embrace.
“The child pretty much gets to do what he wants to,” she said.
Taylor said alternatives to suspensions include counselors, social workers and mentors.
Licciardi said tossing students out of school gives them “three days to play games.”
Discipline is essential, she said, “but we have alternative measures” to sending students home.
France said if teachers face violence, “I think that student does need to be removed.”
But, in lots of cases, he said, students are suspended just to relieve the school of a troubled pupil, especially those with disabilities.
The contest to succeed Roemer is one of eight on the Oct. 24 primary ballot.
At least five of BESE’s 11 seats will be decided that night, shedding light on the future of public education in Louisiana.
The races have split candidates between those who want to continue the overhaul of public schools, especially with policies enacted since 2012, and those who back traditional classrooms and teaching methods.
Three BESE members will be named by the next governor.
The 90-minute forum was sponsored by Beyond Bricks EBR, which includes parent groups, school leaders and religious ministers.
France, Licciardi and Edmonston said they have problems with the state closing troubled schools.
Those schools need assistance, not closing, France said.
Licciardi said shuttering classrooms hurts students and parents.
“I cannot imagine closing a school and being part of that process,” she said.
But Taylor said she worked at now-closed Glen Oaks Middle School during two stints 15 years apart, and that few improvements had been made when she returned despite assistance from the East Baton Rouge Parish school district.
“We had issues moving that school forward,” she said, including leadership problems.
Edmonston is a 21-year veteran of the Ascension Parish school system.
Taylor is the principal of Devall Middle School in Port Allen.
France is a Baton Rouge data analyst. He said he worked for the state Department of Education for nine years.
Licciardi, a former teacher, also spent 10 years on the Jefferson Parish School Board.
Jason Engen, the fifth candidate in the race, missed the forum because of what organizers called a family emergency.
Edmonston lives in Gonzales.
Licciardi lives in Loranger.
The other three live in Baton Rouge.
All the candidates are Republican except France, who is a Libertarian.
The district includes much of East Baton Rouge and Ascension parishes as well as Livingston, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.
Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.