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New LEAP growth results assess student mastery of key concepts

This summer, LEAP 2025 assessment data released with mixed results for the state of Louisiana and the Webster Parish school district. Now, a new set of “Student Progress” data has been released, demonstrating how students in grades 4-12 are growing toward full mastery of key concepts.

LEAP 2025 includes assessments of English Language Arts, mathematics, science, and social studies for grades 3-12. Made public August 29, the new progress data currently only tracks student growth in ELA and math.

Scores on LEAP 2025 are reported on five levels. Beginning in the fall of 2017, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) made several changes to the school ratings system, effectively elevating the target for students to Mastery, the fourth level.

Using past assessment scores, BESE sends school districts a chart for every student that maps out individualized growth targets to achieve Mastery level by the eighth grade, or tenth grade for high schoolers. The Student Progress data breaks down how close students were to achieving those targets in the 2017-2018 school year.

“We’ve taken every school in Webster Parish, and we’ve looked at every school’s results when it comes to the growth-to-Mastery piece,” said Superintendent of Webster Parish Schools Johnny Rowland. “Our goal here in Webster is to significantly reduce the number of students that had zero growth year-to-year.”

For the first time, this growth data will be incorporated into the formula for the all-important School Performance Scores (SPS) and District Performance Score to be released this fall. The growth scores alone will comprise 25 percent of the SPS for elementary and middle schools and a smaller but significant portion for high schools.

“This is a radical example, but even if a child scores Unsatisfactory on the LEAP 2025, we’re not happy about that, but it’s possible that he actually grew eight points from the year before,” Rowland said. “So at least he’s showing growth and not staying stagnant. Encouraging that growth is our mission.”

In this progress data, students are grouped into one of several categories based on how close they were to meeting their growth targets. Statewide, 48 percent of students achieved the top level of growth in ELA, while 43 percent did the same in math. In Webster, that percentage was 45 and 34 for ELA and math, respectively.

While student growth in math is not yet where it needs to be, Rowland said the results indicate an encouraging baseline for the first year of full Tier 1 curricula implementation compared to previous numbers.

“From the 2016-17 school year, we were not pleased at all with our math results in all grades,” Rowland said. “We looked at the cohort growth numbers, and across the board, grades 3 through Geometry in 10, we saw significant dips from one year to the next, tracking the same kids. Those are just the facts.”

To address this issue, the school district implemented the Eureka Math curriculum in every class for the first time last year.

“So again, I went to the cohort growth numbers,” Rowland said. “What we saw this time is all of a sudden, we had about three or four groups that were in the green, showing growth.”

The district still has a way to go in this area, but the results released last month indicate that area schools are on the right track.

“Are our numbers where we want them to be?” Rowland said. “No. Are they close to where we want them to be? No. But did we show some growth in math where in the year before we showed none? Yes. And that’s a big positive.”

For every student that fully meets his growth-to-Mastery target, the school receives 150 points toward its performance grade, the same amount contributed by students who score Advanced, the highest level of proficiency. The remaining students earn points for their school based on how much they grew relative to their peers across the state.

“We applaud the state for giving credence to and recognizing student growth, no matter where that child is on the scale,” Rowland said. “Every student matters.”

A simple summary of Louisiana’s new assessment standards would be that all students who scored at or above Mastery, plus all other students who met the highest growth targets, are where the state wants them to be. The aggregate numbers for both of these groups have been made public, so putting the two together might give the clearest picture of how close schools and districts are to meeting state standards.

The combined number of students statewide who are either already at Mastery+ level or are achieving top growth is 91 percent in ELA and 76 percent in math. In Webster, those totals come out to 80 percent in ELA and 57 percent in math.

As far as individual schools, only one school in Webster Parish exceeded the state average in top growth in both ELA and math: North Webster Junior High. The Chargers came in at 49 percent growth in ELA and 51 percent growth in math. NWJHS is also the only Webster Parish school to achieve higher top growth rates in math than in English.

While improving growth numbers will certainly help School Performance Scores, Rowland said the real purpose of encouraging growth lies outside state accountability.

“Our mindset is to minimize the number of students getting a zero on the growth piece, and that only benefits the student,” he said.”If they’re getting points in whatever category, that shows they are not stagnant. They’re comprehending, they’re learning, they’re getting a grasp of the objectives and standards.”

Rowland said he wanted to be clear that despite the importance of the SPS, student learning is more important, and now more than ever the two are not mutually exclusive.

“In teaching these Tier 1 curricula and preparing our kids the best we can, we’re doing much more than teaching to a test,” he said. “These curricula cause you to think in more abstract terms. You’ve got to be able to read a passage and infer from it. You’re preparing kids to be learners, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creative writers in 2018.”

Rowland said the first important step for the district in addressing deficiencies in test results is more carefully and frequently monitoring student growth so that teachers and administrators can know where students are before the LEAP period rolls around.

“We’re really paying close attention to progress monitoring and tracking our kids often and thoroughly,” he said. “Our content coaches have been in the process of creating common assessments in ELA and math. What we have to be assured of is that all throughout the school year, every couple of weeks, we know where our students are. Are they performing at benchmark, are they ahead of benchmark, or behind benchmark?”

This constant monitoring will allow schools to provide more accurate, specialized, and frequently updated remediation and intervention for students who need the help.

“The data is going to empower our teachers to see individuals in their classroom instead of just a classroom of say, thirty people,” Rowland said. “They can know about each student and what the data shows as far as that student’s progress. You can begin to formulate a plan of how you’re going to lead instruction in your classroom.”

The growth data was the last piece of the SPS puzzle to be released, and using the SPS Calculator tool, the school district can have a fairly good idea of the A-F letter grade each school will be assigned for the 2017-18 year.

Rowland said more information on that front will be given in a detailed presentation to the Webster Parish School Board at their curriculum committee meeting on October 1.

“One thing that we as a central office staff are very excited about is ACT WorkKeys implementation,” he said. “All four of our high schools saw a dramatic increase in WorkKeys participation last year, and we are seeing the results play out in the ACT index, which is part of the high school SPS formula.”

When the official performance scores do come out, citizens should keep in mind that the scoring methods have toughened considerably this year. Letter grades for both the old and new scales will be released for the 2017-18 school year, and then only the new scale will be used moving forward.

“The data tells us where our focus needs to be,” Rowland said. “The data will be the points on our scoreboard, so to speak. We know the quality of kids we have here. We know we have capable teachers and administrators. We just want our data, the scoreboard, to indicate and reflect the track that we’re on. We just want to be able to point back to our results and show that we’re on an upward growth trend in Webster Parish.”

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