LEAP scores are good news

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 27, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / September 27, 1999

RESERVE – Thursday, the Louisiana State Board of Education released the 1999 School Accountability Roster which ranks schools according to student scores on the LEAP and Iowa tests, plus attendance records. In St.John the Baptist Parish, two schools, John L. Ory Communications Magnetand LaPlace Elementary School, placed in the “academically above average” category, with school performance scores of 84.7 and 75.2,respectively. These are scores out of a possible 200. The other seven parish schools were categorized as “academically below average” with Fifth Ward Elementary and Leon Godchaux scoring the lowest. High school scores will be released later next year.The good news is that no public school in St. John Parish is considered asan academically unacceptable school.

“There were no surprises,” said St. John Parish School SuperintendentChris Donaldson. “We’ve been following the performance of the schools,and we knew there would be some low scores.”Even though no school will be placed on the corrective action list, Donaldson said there is still a lot of work ahead for the school system.

In a statewide effort to improve public education, the Louisiana State Board of Education has mandated a school accountability program which starts in earnest this year. Using a combination of tests, the Iowa BasicSkills test and the Louisiana Education Assessment Program, (LEAP) test, schools are placed in six different categories according to the school performance scores. This highest level is School of Academic Excellenceand the lowest is Academically Unacceptable School.

Those schools scoring in the lowest category are placed in corrective action, and a District Assistance Team made up of specially trained teachers and administrators go in and have two years to improve the school’s score.

Right now, accountability is being placed on the student, especially the fourth- and eighth-graders. Each March, these students are required totake the LEAP test. If they do not pass this test, they will not bepromoted. Students not passing the LEAP exam can go to summer schooland then be re-tested to see if they can go on to the next grade.

“This a hard test,” said Donaldson. “Students have to know how to reasonand think.”At a recent meeting with parents to prepare them for the LEAP test at the Garyville/Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet School, Principal Mike Coburntold parents, “The test is plain and straight-forward, but it is hard. Weare no longer testing remedial skills. No more simple true/false testing.”The St. John School Board is not standing still. It is already preparing andworking to get students ready for next March’s LEAP exams.

The state has given each school a benchmark goal to shoot for in the next round of tests. As a result, Donaldson is stressing a curriculum that willmatch the test benchmarks.

There will also be an emphasis and improvements on discipline to help students focus on school work and reduce distractions. After-schoolremediation programs, increasing parent and community involvement and special tutoring sessions are all being implemented to help students get ready for the March exams.

Even though Fifth Ward Elementary and Leon Godchaux Junior High did not fall into the lowest category, their low scores have prompted the school board to send in the District Assistance Team to each school to give them an extra added push.

“We have to show people that this can be done,” said Donaldson. “FifthWard, for example, has to raise its score by 11 points, and I think it is achievable.”There is also a move to improve the summer school program and make the instruction more project-oriented. The LEAP test is a problem-orientedtest, and the school board wants to get students to read and think more on projects.

“We are doing good on rote-memory,” said Donaldson, “But an emphasis has to be made on math. We’ve got to get the students reading,comprehending and thinking things through.”The school system will also send out a newsletter to students and parents with sample LEAP questions.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Wilbert Ocmond said, “We’re sending parents calendars with sample questions for each day of the year.”Parent involvement is something Donaldson cannot stress enough.

“There is a direct correlation between parent involvement and student achievement,” said Donaldson.

At the Garyville Magnet School parent meeting, Audrey Sylvain, the school’s testing coordinator, stressed over and over that the parents play an integral part in their child’s achievement in school.

“We have to teach the parents how to analyze the LEAP scores,” Sylvain said, “and then teach them how to help the teacher to help the student.”Sylvain outlined several things that parents can do to help their children before March: Ask your children to work on the sample questions.

Check assignments and homework. If the child doesn’t have homework,make up an assignment for them to do.

Encourage your child to read as much as they want and to write something every day, even if it is only a paragraph.

Make sure your child attends the LEAP tutorials.

Make your child think. Have the child question things.Another factor in a school’s achievement is the presence of certified teachers.

“We’re in bad need of certified teachers,” admits Donaldson. “A big key tohigher test scores is more certified teachers.”The biggest roadblock to getting more teachers is salary. Donaldson saidsomething has to be done to keep teachers in the parish. The only way toraise teacher pay is to go to the voters and ask for a millage increase.

“Within a short time, we will go back to the drawing board on that issue,” said Donaldson. “We have to do something.”While the results of the School Accountability Roster is not disastrous for St. John Parish, Donaldson is not real happy with the scores.”While we are extremely pleased that we have no schools in corrective action, we are certainly not satisfied with the results.”But with hard work and some changes, Donaldson remains very optimistic.

“I think you will see a big improvement next year when the scores come out,” he said.

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