Educators believe students are ready

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 11, 2002


LAPLACE – Louisiana public school fourth- and eighth- graders know the LEAP tests begin Monday. The teachers and principals know it too.

What it all means, however, depends on who you ask.

For John L. Ory Magnet School principal Teri Noel in LaPlace, it means secrecy. She displayed the key for the cupboard she kept the tests locked in but wouldn’t disclose their locations.

For her 47 fourth-graders who will be taking the test, it means anxiety.

“The anxiety is higher this year because they’ve seen kids going to summer school for not passing. So they know the reality,” said Noel.

During the last two years, John L. Ory Magnet has grown by more than five points in the state’s evaluation system, making them the only school in St. John Parish to achieve the status of a School of Academic Achievement.

John L. Ory Magnet specializes in communication and arts, while Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet focuses on math and science. Applying students are selected by random lottery for acceptance.

Noel attributes the success of their school to the curriculum map they designed two years ago. The weekly tests and chapter tests follow the part-written, part-multiple choice format used on the LEAP tests.

“If students understand what they’re asked to do, they’ll understand the test questions better,” said Noel.

Noel also has been going over student scores on previous tests to show them where they’ve excelled and where they need improvement. She has also implemented an award system with trophies to encourage the students to achieve. John L. Ory school fourth-grader Taylor Atkinson earned seven academic trophies for his test scores last year. Still, he admits, “I’m a little nervous. I’ve been working on the LEAP practice booklets. So I’m prepared.”

“There are two rules for taking the test,” said fourth-grader Katherine Bankston. “One, you can’t go to the bathroom; and two, you can’t get up to sharpen your pencil.”

Bankston said she expects to pass. But is nervous about summer school because she wants to go visit her grandmother this summer.

“We’ve had more weekend homework to get ready for the test,” said fellow student Darren James. “The teacher said there would be less after the LEAP tests were over.”

Alexis Hampton is doing her homework so she won’t miss her trip to Disney World this summer. “My parents told me I better pass,” she said. “I get on the Internet every night and take the practice tests.”

Eighth-graders at Glade School get as much instruction as their teachers can incorporate into the classes. Claretha Favors, who has taught pre-algebra for 12 years at Glade, said the students are more afraid of the math portion of the test.

“We use the state test booklets to practice, and I try to give them the skills,” said Favors. “You just have to keep encouraging them.”

Students agreed the math section was intimidating.

“The fractions worry me the most,” said Brandi Cage, but she shook her head with confidence when asked if she was scared. “I’m not worried about passing them.”

“I’m a little scared about it,” said her classmate, Rhenada Naquire, “I’ve been studying on my own.”

Literature teacher Kristie Nettles starts preparing her eighth graders in December, putting together packets of study materials that she gets from the Internet and other sources. She checks to see which units the students had the most difficulty with last year, and then tries to teach those units closer to the test deadline. This week, they worked on information resources.

“I’m more confident than they are. I believe they’ll do fine,” said Nettles. “I tell the kids they have to have the right attitude, they’ll go in there and get every question right. It’s their attitude that will keep them in junior high.”

Meanwhile, at Harry Hurst Middle School, assistant principal Stephen Weber is in charge of the testing program, and commented that more participated in the tutoring program this year. The program paid for teacher salaries and benefits, supplies, buses and drivers and refreshments for the after-school class. At Hurst, it cost just over $21,000, with $11,500 funded through the St. Charles Parish Public School District and a state grant of $9,654.

The grant was graded on a basis of five students per tutoring teacher. An estimated 230 students at Hurst will take LEAP. Principal Lorel Gonzales also explained the Hurst Incentive Program, where students scoring 80 percent or higher in the Iowa Test were invited to a celebration. The program is similar to other middle schools’ such as J. B. Martin Middle School’s Cougars Accelerated Program.

Practice tests are given Mondays and Tuesdays.

Ray Palmer, 14, of Destrehan, said he is ready for LEAP. “I’m going in pretty confident,” he added. “The school gets your confidence up for what’s going to happen.”

However, preparations for LEAP began from the first day of class, not only at Hurst, but at every involved school. Diagnostic testing graded students’ progress and revealed academic areas in need of attention.

At G.W. Carver Elementary in Hahnville, “Test Ready” booklets were provided free to parents of students taking LEAP, as well as enough “Making the Grade” videos, which cover language arts and mathematics. After-school tutoring likewise took place two days per week, and an estimated 120 students are due to take the tests.

Funding for their tutoring program came from the state, $10,658 (but down from $50,000 in the previous year), which paid for two buses, three paraeducators and three teachers. The additional $16,000 from the school district paid for an additional bus, three more teachers and supplies.

“The teachers have done a supurb job in getting the kids ready,” said principal Mildred Butler.

Students agreed. Barbara Mikel, 9, said, “When I took the practice test this week, it was easy to do,” covering topics from decimals to use of the Internet.

Jemyra Butler, 10, added she is “feeling confident I’ll do well.”

Ty Hills, 9, said LEAP so far “is already a piece of cake.”

Teacher Chrissie Bergeron said the diagnostic tests, together with parental involvement and teacher cooperation, helped Carver be recognized as a School of Exemplary Academic Excellence.

“The more we do it, the better we get,” Bergeron said.

On Thursday at the Ethel Schoeffner Elementary School LEAP pep rally, New Orleans Saints running back coach Dave Atkins displayed the 5-inch thick offensive playbook the team uses, and explained this is the type of studying professional football players have to do.

Principal Mary Schmidt recognized the 13 teachers and volunteer tutors from Orion Refining Company, who assisted the 134 students through their 34 after-school tutoring sessions. Atkins, whose daughter, Jasmine, is a fifth-grade student at the school, urged, “You’ll do well, if you’re prepared.”

Also, Schmidt listened to suggestions for an improved program next year.

“We should do more practices,” responded student Jason Smothers.

LEAP has become a benchmark for student evaluation of their academic progress. To this end, the state Department of Education provided practice tests this year, containing questions from past tests but illustrating the types of questions and their formats to prepare students for this type of questioning.

The tests are available online and come with answers in the back of the booklets. The practice tests are available at every school with students taking LEAP. Every measure has been taken to prepare students to the actual thing, using similar questions.

Students in grades four and eight will start Monday with the language arts portion. On the following day, a proofreading test is joined by a reading-and-response portion of the language arts exam.

The mathematics portion of LEAP is being split between Tuesday and Wednesday, and students will continue with the science portion Thursday and social studies Friday, joined by 11th-graders this year for the first time, though the test is not a graduation requirement. At the same time, 10th-graders will be taking the GEE-21 language arts and mathematics tests, required to be passed to receive a diploma upon graduation. Retake of a failed portion will be available in October.

Eleventh-graders will take the new GEE-21 science and social studies exam on March 12-15. They also will have re-take opportunities in case they fail a portion.

Other students will be taking the Iowa Test of Basic Skills during the same week, including students in grades two, three, five, six and seven, who will take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, while students in grade nine will take the Iowa Test of Basic Development.

Results for the March 11-15 LEAP tests will be received by May 13. A LEAP “summer school” will again be held to handle those students who score unsatisfactory, with re-tests planned in early July.

Results from those re-tests will be received by mid-August, with the start of the new school year set a few days later.