St. John educators prepare to LEAP toward exam

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 10, 2003

RESERVE – If the clich “actions speak louder than words” is true, then school officials with St. John the Baptist Parish Schools have a lot to say about the preparing students for the state’s LEAP 21 exam.

In the past year, administrators, principals and teachers have collectively utilized a variety of programs and resources to find ways to improve their students’ performance on state and national standardized tests that are used to measure their progress.

“I have challenged our team of professionals to do all they can to help our students learn and progress. We are thinking ‘out of the box,’ and we’re exploring programs that have worked elsewhere. We want to be able to say we’ve given our students every opportunity to succeed,” said Superintendent Michael K. Coburn.

The LEAP 21 exam is given to all fourth- and eighth-graders in public schools statewide March 10-14.

Kathy McWaters, Ph.D., supervisor of curriculum and special projects, said the variety of approaches include national research-based programs, state-sponsored resources available to schools and parents, and district-wide activities that specifically address local needs.

The district is the first in the state to use the Standards Master Assessment, which is a nationally researched test preparatory program that allows schools to determine deficiencies before students take the LEAP 21 exam in March.

The district is also proactive in developing a curriculum assessment to determine if students are receiving proper instruction in the classroom.

“In addition to gauging the students’ progress, we want to determine if the teachers at every school are teaching the material they are suppose to teach.

We are comparing scores to determine if they are teaching the material in the most effective manner, and then ultimately, if the teachers are doing their job, whether the students are learning the material,” said McWaters.

“Clearly, we’re testing every aspect of what we are doing to determine where we can improve,” she said.

McWaters noted that the district also utilizes the state Department of Education’s LEAP 21 Practice Tests, which are designed to help prepare students for the actual LEAP 21 exam in March.

Additionally, teachers engage students to write across the curriculum, which requires students to incorporate writing skills in all subject matters.

“One thing we have determined from our data is that our students tend to do well in writing, so we’re trying to build on this strength and use it pull up our weaker areas, such as math,” she said, noting that students are taught to write explanations for the answers to their math equations, rather than just give numerical responses.

“This approach is also the desired one for the LEAP 21 exam, so we’re hoping this will be an effective approach,” McWaters added.

McWaters said the state also makes available to schools and parents on-line practice exams and tutoring programs that can be accessed at any time. Students can go on-line to www.louis-iana and click on “PASS,” which is the practice assessment.

Students take the test from their home or library computer, their performance is immediately scored, and they are shown which questions they answered correctly and incorrectly.

“This gives the students ample opportunity to acquaint themselves with the material and types of questions they will see,” she said.

Moreover, McWaters said every K-8 school in the district offers free after-school LEAP 21 tutoring for fourth and eighth graders, while West St. John High School and Leon Godchaux Junior High offer tutoring for their eighth graders. LaPlace Elementary, John L. Ory Magnet and Garyville/Mt. Airy Magnet also offer ITBS tutoring for students in third, fifth, sixth and seventh grades. All schools also sponsor “Parent Nights,” to introduce LEAP 21 tutoring concepts to parents and family members.

The schools have even incorporated LEAP 21 preparatory activities in their technology and science labs.

“Our approach is multi-faceted,” said Coburn. “By utilizing a variety of tools and programs, we hope we can hit on all cylinders and, truly, leave no child behind.