Teacher Caroline Swan, right, holds hands with kindergarteners as student get off a bus in February at Denham Springs Elementary's new temporary campus. Despite the Great Flood of 2016, LEAP scores of third- through eighth-graders put Livingston Parish in the top 10 in the state.

News file photo

LIVINGSTON – Livingston Parish students maintained their place as a top 10 school system in the state with the release of the 2017 Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) exams.

The Louisiana Department of Education released the spring test results on Wednesday, July 12.

In the past three years, the number of Livingston Parish students achieving the top two levels on the LEAP test has increased 3 percent, from 39 percent to 42 percent.

This ranks Livingston Parish ninth in the state out of 69 school systems.

“I was pleasantly surprised by everything we went through to show growth over two years,” said Rick Wentzel, Livingston Parish school superintendent. 

Wentzel was on vacation when the results were released and could not access the full results until Monday, July 17, when he reviewed it with his staff.

“Considering all that we’re been through, that is just a testament to our teachers, administrators, students and parents,” Wentzel said of the school district being ninth in the state.

“We’re still showing progress. We’re working and progressing with students, to continue taking children to another level,” he said.

In its announcement, the Education Department said schools across Louisiana “sustained the significant gains made in recent years, seeing a slight increase in the percentage of students scoring Mastery and above in English Language Arts (ELA).”

The results showed a slight decrease in the percentage of those scoring at those levels in math and no change in science. 

The results do not include the social studies portion. That exam was new this year and will take longer to score, the report said.

Wentzel cautioned that the LEAP scores are numbers like other results and not the sole goal of the school system.

“For teachers and administrators this is data to improve teaching methods and instruction. That’s what this is – data – that we use to improve.

“The focus is on the children,” he said.

For the third year in a row, Zachary was first, at 54 percent. Ascension and Plaquemines parishes tied for second at 48 percent.

The report also said school systems affected by the Great Flood of 2016 maintained their performance.

“Preliminary analysis shows that there is not a substantial difference in results for flood-impacted parishes,” it said.

Livingston Parish schools were hit hard by the flooding. When schools resumed in September, several Denham Springs area schools shared campuses with other schools or were platooned with Watson schools.

Denham Springs Elementary, Southside Elementary and Southside Junior High are still located in temporary buildings at other school sites while the future of their home campuses is determined.

In 2017, ELA, math and social studies exams were administered online to students in fifth through eighth grades for the first time.

The Education Department will provide complete analyses to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education at its August meeting.

Results for students in grades 3-8 are put into one of five achievement levels: advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic and unsatisfactory.

The new standard is mastery, or ready for the next grade level.

Students will have to average the mastery level, with other academic goals, for schools to earn an A rating, starting in 2025.

“Mastery is a big deal. It will become the new basic,” Wentzel said. “Our goal is to more move children to the mastery level and provide better instruction.

“That’s not to say we are not providing good instruction now,” Wentzel added, “but we are always trying to make ourselves better.”

The percentage of Louisiana students scoring at the advanced and mastery level in ELA, math, and science improved by 4 percent from 29 percent in 2015 to 33 percent in 2017. This did not change from 2016 to 2017.

Computers were lost to flooding the year that fifth- through eighth-graders had to take their tests online. Teachers were limited by various circumstances to doing test preparation with students so they would be familiar with the testing process.

“Regardless of the great flood and the tragedies that hit, and I don’t want to harp on that, they responded to the challenge,” of taking the LEAP tests, he said.

“We missed 20 days, schools had to platoon, … but they still were able to improve.

 “We’re still in the top 10 in districts in the state. We’re still progressing and continuing to improve our educational opportunities for our children,” Wentzel said.

In the Education Department announcement, state Superintendent John White said, “We have raised academic expectations in Louisiana in order to prepare more students for success in college and the workplace.

“It is encouraging to see our students and educators embracing these expectations and achieving at levels competitive with other states. But there remains more work to be done,” White said.

“And while we are proud of continued gains students have made in reading and writing, too many students are struggling with fundamental math and science, which holds them back greatly as they progress through school,” White said.

“Louisiana's ESSA plan must address these challenges,” he said.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed by President Barack Obama in 2015, requires states to submit accountability plans beginning with the 2017-28 school year.

The state education superintendent said Louisiana’s comprehensive ESSA plan responds directly to the challenges revealed by this year's results.

Under this plan, White said Louisiana will:

--Redefine what it means to be an “A” school. By 2025, an “A” school will be one in which students average Mastery on the LEAP and end-of-course assessments, average a score of 21 on the ACT and graduate on time at a rate of at least 90 percent.

--Close the achievement gap among historically disadvantaged students by supporting schools in need.

Louisiana will deliver targeted funding to students and schools who are the most in need, as well as foster and fund relationships between persistently struggling schools and partners that have demonstrated success in turning around struggling schools.

--Support students struggling with fundamental math skills, particularly in the middle and upper grades.

The Education Department has released a series of support tools to be implemented in thousands of fourth- through ninth-grade classrooms across the state during the 2017-2018 school year to support struggling students.

In partnership with the College Board and Khan Academy, the department is working with more than 40 school systems to pilot a new, intensive Algebra I course in more than 100 ninth-grade classrooms to help students who enter the grade behind catch up on critical skills they have not yet learned while keeping pace with grade-level content.

--Reduce testing. The department will continue to try to reduce testing by limiting the paper-based testing window to one week and by restricting state tests to no more than 2 percent of annual educational minutes.

--Beginning in 2017-2018, the department will provide school systems with short “check-up” tests that will be developed, scored and reported in alignment with the Louisiana Student Standards, replacing tests administered by districts over the course of the year.

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Kevin Fambrough is a reporter at the Livingston Parish News. He can be reached at kevinf@livingstonparishnews.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @fambroughkevin.

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