Parish schools working to prepare for iLEAP test

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 12, 2006

VIDALIA &8212; Louisiana schools have every reason in the world to fail on this year&8217;s state tests.

In two weeks five grades will be taking a test no one in the district has ever seen before &8212; the iLEAP.

All grades implemented a new way of teaching this year with the state&8217;s comprehensive curriculum.

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And then there&8217;s Katrina.

Concordia Parish schools hosted about 500 extra students after the hurricane, some for a day, some for a week. Of those evacuee students, about 200 are still here.

&8220;When a school mushrooms and picks up 60 plus kids at one time, that&8217;s pretty substantial,&8221; Vidalia Junior High Principal Paul Nelson said.

&8220;It was so disruptive. I felt like at some times we didn&8217;t do anything but baby sit.&8221;

Evacuee students came in on different academic levels &8212; most below Concordia students, principals said.

Classroom sizes grew and resources were stretched.

&8220;We lost instructional time,&8221; Superintendent Kerry Laster said. &8220;There&8217;s no way around it. Instruction was not the way it was supposed to be at that time.&8221;

Nelson said he felt like he&8217;d lost about a month of instruction time.

&8220;I&8217;m not going to be surprised if we don&8217;t show growth this year,&8221; Nelson said. &8220;We just had too many obstacles to overcome.&8221;

Comprehensive curriculum

This year was going to be tough pre-Katrina.

The state announced in January 2005 they would implement a new test in grades three, five, six, seven and nine. Along with the new test came a new curriculum designed to ensure that students across the state were learning the same thing on the same day.

District administrators had only a few months to learn what they could about the iLEAP and comprehensive curriculum. In late spring and through the summer teachers and administrators worked to write their district curriculum in line with the state&8217;s model.

Before school started the curriculum writing team met with all district teachers to show them the new way they&8217;d have to teach.

The curriculum was implemented on the first day of school in August.

&8220;The idea was to help better prepare students for that test,&8221; Nelson said. &8220;But it&8217;s hard to say whether it worked.

&8220;There&8217;s been a lot of concerns about the curriculum, a lot of problems throughout the year with it. We have struggled and choked and done our best to follow it.&8221;

Nelson said the biggest worry from teachers is that the curriculum doesn&8217;t allow for re-teaching. Certain lessons are to be handled on certain days, and if child doesn&8217;t grasp one day&8217;s lesson there&8217;s no time to work with them.


The iLEAP is a combination of the other two tests Louisiana children take, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and LEAP &8212; the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.

Iowa is a norm-reference test, meaning it compares local students with those across the country.

LEAP is a criteria-reference test and judges students on how well they know the material they&8217;ve been taught.

&8220;The iLEAP is brand new to us,&8221; Laster said. &8220;I&8217;m worried. We haven&8217;t seen it and don&8217;t know what it&8217;s like.&8221;

That&8217;s a worry most principals and teachers share right now.

&8220;The third-grade teachers are really, really apprehensive,&8221; Vidalia Upper Elementary Principal Darla Johnston said. &8220;It&8217;s the fear of the unknown.&8221;

The iLEAP will require written responses in some cases, Johnston said, and that&8217;s something third-graders have never done on a state test.

But VUES third-grade teacher Karen Nelson said she&8217;s prepared her students for the writing, and isn&8217;t very worried about that part.

&8220;We write in a journal every day,&8221; Nelson&8217;s student Taylor Yates said. &8220;I&8217;m not really worried.&8221;

But writing aside, Nelson isn&8217;t worry-free.

&8220;We are all kind of stressed out about it,&8221; she said. &8220;We don&8217;t really know the format of it. They told us to follow the curriculum, so we&8217;ve been trying to shove all this information into them, and a lot of them may be getting left behind.&8221;

Fourth- and eighth-graders will continue taking the LEAP this year. The results of the test determine whether those students can go on to the next grade.

Though the district is familiar with the LEAP, this year&8217;s fourth-graders have never had it, and are a little nervous.

&8220;It&8217;s one of the most important tests thorough all your school years,&8221; VUES student Taylor Perkins said.

&8220;There are going to be some questions I don&8217;t know,&8221; classmate Presley Davis said. &8220;But I think I will pass it because I have great teachers.&8221;

Second-graders will take the Iowa Test. Tenth-graders will take the GEE &8212; Graduation Exit Exam.

All testing will be March 20-24.

Schools have offered practice tests, tutoring and workshops for parents for several weeks now.

District director of Academic Affairs Fred Butcher said he was hopeful the scores will be where they should be.

&8220;We have to face reality,&8221; he said. &8220;This has perhaps been the most difficult year in education I&8217;ve seen in Louisiana in the 35 years since I&8217;ve been here.

&8220;We are working hard and thinking positive. It is realistic to say they&8217;ve worked hard enough.&8221;