Students prepared to LEAP

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 11, 2002


LEAP testing begins next week for the approximately 500,000 Louisiana public school students. Now in its fifth year, the program will test the English and Math skills of fourth- and eighth-graders before passing them to the next level.

Overall the program has progressed very well, according to several state education officials. State Director of Testing Scott Norton for the Louisiana Department of Education said the system is ranked very well in comparison to other states’ programs.

“We have issues every hour of every day. But the big picture has gone as well or better than expected,” said Norton.

Norton said everything is on schedule to raise the standard for a passing grade from Approaching Basic to Basic, and expects the board might do that in the near future. Of the five grade levels a student can achieve – Advance, Proficient, Basic, Approaching Basic, and Unsatisfactory – only a score of Unsatisfactory would prevent the student from advancing.

“Basic has always been the goal but a difficult one to achieve in one leap,” said Norton. “The board wanted to allow a reasonable number of years for everyone to get comfortable.”

The logistics of creating and implementing LEAP tests require a great deal of effort and funding.

Norton said the DOE has three separate professional service contracts: one for administrative tasks such as printing, scanning, and reporting, a second for the creation of the test items and data collection, and a third contract to create a web-based practice test module. Along with staffing concerns, the total cost is more than $10 million.

The heavier economic burden falls on the remediation programs to help the students who do not pass the test.

There are tutoring programs, summer school for fourth-graders, and remediation programs for high school students which cost about $20 million, a figure Norton described as a “substantial increase” from the previous year.

Remediation expenses can be expected to drop if students and schools continue to excel in the testing, but that would be temporarily offset by raising the requirements on passing grade levels.

“Regardless of the results, we provide as much information as we can to get as much funding as possible for remediation,” said Norton. “If we expect the students to pass the tests, we have to give them the tools to do it.”

Much of the information for test improvement comes directly from the teachers who administer the tests, said Norton. Comment sheets are provided for the teachers to fill out and send to the department. Comments may also be made via email on the DOE Internet Web site.

“We depend on the support of the teachers and principals and their comments,” said Norton.

“I try to remember that the Department of Education doesn’t administer a single test.”