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Parish schools improve in state test scores

FERRIDAY — Hard work, preparation and a little prayer were the keys to success Ferriday Upper Elementary School Principal Joyce Russ said helped her students score higher on this year’s state tests.

“We worked very hard to prepare our students for state testing, but of course we need to give the honor to God because without his guidance we wouldn’t have done this well,” Russ said. “We prayed a lot and made our focus be about the kids and what was best for them.”

Third graders at the school scored 34 percentage points higher in math than last year’s third graders on the state mandated Integrated Louisiana Educational Assessment Program, or iLEAP, test.

This year, 69 percent of third-grade students scored basic or above on the math test.

The Louisiana Department of Education released the scores Wednesday for all districts in the state.

Concordia Parish students in grades third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh took the iLEAP in April.

Students receive a ranking of advanced, mastery, basic, approaching basic or unsatisfactory.

The iLEAP does not determine whether students will proceed to the next grade, but measures students’ progress.

Ferriday Upper fifth-graders also showed significant improvement on the iLEAP.

The fifth-grade students scored 30 percentage points higher in social studies than last year’s students, with 65 percent scoring basic and above.

“This is just the beginning of better things to come at Ferriday Upper,” Russ said. “We’re on our way up.”

Ferriday Junior High School students showed the most significant increases in the district on the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program exam, or LEAP, test.

Students in grades four and eight took the LEAP, which is a high-stakes test that requires students to achieve a certain score to proceed to the next grade.

Students taking the LEAP are required to score a basic or above on either one of their math or English exams to move on to the next grade.

Eighth-grade students at Ferriday Junior High School scored 29 percentage points higher in math than last year’s students, with 54 percent of students scoring basic and above.

FJHS Principal Arlana Davis said the student’s high-test scores could be attributed to the joint effort of students, teachers and parents.

“We really made an effort to reach out to the parents and the community to back us up because the students need that support,” Davis said. “When the community is there, the school is there and the parents are there, the results speak for themselves.

“Our students exceeded our expectations, and we are ecstatic about the results.”

Vidalia Junior High School seventh-grade students showed increases in all four subjects on the iLEAP, with English language arts and social studies scores increasing by 13 percentage points.

But eighth-grade students scored 17 percentage points lower in English on the LEAP.

Principal Whest Shirley said he congratulated teachers Friday at the school’s end of the year meeting, but also told them plenty of hard work was in store for them in the fall.

“We actually did a lot of the same things we did last year, so we’re not going to point fingers at anyone but ourselves,” Shirley said. “I told them I was proud of them, and that we would come back to look at things and hit it hard in August.”

Shirley said the school needs to see improvement in reading skills.

“A fluent reader is going to score well in social studies or science because they’re able to read and understand what the questions are all about,” Shirley said. “Some of those basic things are what we need to go back and look at.”

Sixty-three percent of Concordia Parish students scored basic and above on the LEAP and iLEAP. That percent has neither increased nor decreased since 2011.

Superintendent Paul Nelson said he was pleased to see several schools and grade levels show improvements on the tests, but also said he hopes the district shows more growth in the future.

“When you look at the statewide numbers, you see that 30 percent of school districts went backward in their test scores,” Nelson said. “We’re certainly not satisfied we didn’t show substantial growth, but we’re pleased we didn’t go backward.”

As part of an effort to align the state’s testing assessment to the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, the state education department included more common-core-aligned content in the LEAP and iLEAP tests this year.

This year’s tests included different and more difficult questions in the math and English language arts tests than in previous year’s tests.

“Considering some of the challenges with a new curriculum, new tests and other things, we’re pretty fortunate to hold where we’re at,” Nelson said. “We showed some growth in some areas and dipped in some other areas, but we certainly want to congratulate the hard work of the students, teachers and parents out there.”

Those changes and others currently being discussed in the Louisiana Legislature, including changes to Common Core implementation and district accountability, will also determine how the district will prepare for next year’s test once school resumes in August.

“There’s just so many changes in education happening in the Legislature, so there’s a lot of uncertainty right now as to what we’ll be doing next year,” Nelson said. “Once the Legislature adjourns, we’ll be able to sit back and take a deep breath.”

Concordia Parish was ranked 46 out of the 70 school districts in Louisiana for percentage of students scoring basic and above on tests.

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