State releases Leap, iLeap scores to schools; public release delayed

The Louisiana Department of Education on Tuesday is tentatively scheduled to release initial results from LEAP and iLEAP tests given this spring in grades three through eight.

Individual student scores on those key standardized tests, however, went out days ago, released to public schools late May 19.

Schools quickly put the numbers to use to assign failing fourth- and eighth-graders to summer school, which starts May 27 or later in the week in many school districts.

In his letter to schools Monday, state Superintendent of Education John White said “results overall are steady when compared to last year,” but promised that a summary report laying out statewide trends is in the works. He asked that “until that time (school districts) use the posted results for educational purposes, rather than publicity purposes.”

The embargo has not been easy for schools that had good news and wanted to celebrate before the 2013-14 school year closed out as it did last week in much of Louisiana.

Some pushed the embargo to the limit. Park Ridge Academic Magnet School in Baker, for instance, allowed its high-scoring students to thrust pies in the faces of teachers as a reward, an event captured on video and shown on a Baton Rouge television station.

State educators say they need the extra time to conduct the detailed analysis, but some educators say the state used to do this ahead of time.

From 2001 to 2009, the state released results to schools, and usually within hours released a first batch of results to the general public along with a detailed analysis.

“We would give it to schools, then we would hurry, hurry full-court press to get it out because we were afraid people would break the embargo,” recalled Leslie Jacobs, who served from 1996 to 2008 on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and is often called the architect of the state’s school accountability system.

That changed in 2010, when the state delayed the public announcement eight days. This year, the delay will last at least eight days again, and longer if the results aren’t released Tuesday.

Barry Landry, a spokesman for the department, said Friday that the delay is no big deal.

“We are now running analysis to show how the state and districts performed in each subject at each grade level,” Landry said. “This is the way it always is. We release individual student scores as soon as they are ready. It takes about a week to then analyze them.”

The delay has sparked much online commentary and speculation about how the state might be manipulating the data to suit its own purposes.

“I don’t think there’s any trickery going on. I just believe it’s complicated,” said Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper. “It’s complicated for me when I get the stuff over here. I think we need to give them a benefit of the doubt and work with what we get next week.”

Jacobs is dubious that much manipulation is possible now.

“I don’t believe the department can manipulate test scores the way people think it can,” she said.

Jacobs said the department can analyze the numbers in any number of ways, but it makes no sense at this point to try to manipulate the underlying raw scores.

“You can’t manipulate the data once it’s out there,” she said. “It’s done.”

It took a bit longer to get “out there” this year than originally projected, which sparked the initial round of speculation among educators.

The state’s original target for releasing individual student scores was May 16, but in the afternoon on that day, White pushed the deadline back four more days without explanation. The department ended up needing only three days.

To show how involved the process is, Landry shared a copy of a schedule for this year’s LEAP and iLEAP tests, a schedule that called for five to six weeks of “scoring and quality assurance,” which is about a week longer than years past.

“This year’s test included transitional item types of higher quality measure, requiring additional hand-scoring and quality assurance validation processing,” reads the schedule.

Educators hoping for early results in the future may face new disappointment.

Standardized tests are shifting away from paper and pencil to online. End-of-Course tests, administered to high school students in Louisiana in six subjects, are given online. Friday was the last day students could take those tests. A state summary of those results is not planned until July.

Next year, the LEAP and iLEAP tests are being replaced by the new PARCC assessments, which are aligned with the Common Core. PARCC is short for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Both PARCC and End-of-Course tests will be given through the last day of the 2014-15 school year.