LEAP scores show challenges loom for schools

One in four students reached new target

While public school students generally scored at the same level on key tests this spring as last year, only one in four achieved marks that reach Louisiana’s new and higher academic target, state Superintendent of Education John White said Tuesday.

“The results are steady, but show that students are doing as well as we would expect them to do,” White told reporters. “Now we begin the process of slowly raising the bar.”

The figures stem from what state officials call transitional exams, and part of a major change in what students will be taught and will be expected to know.

They include LEAP and iLEAP, which students in grades 3-8 are taking for the last time this year.

However, both exams included new rigor ahead of revamped tests next year linked to the national academic standards called Common Core.

Overall 69 percent of students achieved “basic” and above on the two tests this time, the same as last year.

That represents the third highest of five achievement categories.

However, the state’s new standard will be “mastery,” which is the fourth highest of the five categories, and one that is supposed to ensure college or career readiness.

Only 24 percent of students statewide scored at that level or higher, according to the state Department of Education.

The Zachary School District, long rated tops in the state, had 47 percent of its students scoring mastery or higher, also number one statewide.

Others include East Baton Rouge Parish school system, 20 percent; Ascension, 36 percent; Livingston, 33 percent; Central, 34 percent, Lafayette, 25 percent, West Baton Rouge, 20 percent, Baker, 9 percent, West Feliciana, 35 percent and Recovery School District/Baton Rouge, 5 percent, which includes eight schools.

On the English tests, White said students showed gains at all grade levels on non-fiction, informational texts — passages from a wide range of sources — and using evidence from texts when reading and writing.

He said students often use insufficient evidence from the texts in their responses.

On math exams, White said, students showed improvements in how concepts relate to one another but struggled to justify answers and connect concepts to daily applications.

He said the results both validate efforts by students and teachers and show “we have a long way to go” to reach the state’s higher standard by 2025, when an A-rated school will have an average performance of mastery rather than basic.

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has already taken steps to soften the effect of the new standards, and a bill is pending in the Legislature that would do the same.

The aim is to avoid precipitous drops in student, school and district results.

“That has happened in some states,” White said. “It is not going to happen here.”

While 69 percent of students scored “basic” and above on LEAP and iLEAP, just 45 percent of students on vouchers did so.

Vouchers are state aid for students who meet income rules to move from troubled public schools to, in most cases, private schools.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, who pushed for a statewide expansion of vouchers in 2012, said on Twitter that the results show school choice works.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said data shows that 30 percent of voucher students scored “basic” or higher in 2010.

The results mark the final spring version of LEAP, which has long been known as a barometer for student achievement in a push for classroom gains that began in 1999.

The latest results show that among initial test takers:

  • 82 percent of fourth-graders passed the test, up from 81 percent last year.
  • 74 percent of eighth-graders passed the test, down from 76 percent last year.

A total of 78,500 students took the tests.

In the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, 76 percent of fourth-graders passed the exam, down from 80 percent last year.

Among eighth-graders, 67 percent passed this time compared to 70 percent in 2013.

“The increased rigor associated with the 2014 LEAP tests had only minimal impact on this year’s performance results,” said East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Bernard Taylor Jr. in a prepared statement.

LEAP stands for Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.