New LEAP results show Louisiana students are falling behind

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Louisiana’s K-12 students are falling behind, according to newly released testing assessments.

The Louisiana Department of Education tracks student progress through the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program and the revised testing approach known as LEAP 2025. The latest findings cover a two-year period and show a proficiency decrease of 5 percentage points in grades 3-8, and a 5-percentage-point decline in grades 9-12.

“This decrease was felt across all grade levels, content areas and student subgroups,” a DOE statement said regarding elementary and middle school children.

“In each individual subject, the number of students scoring Mastery and above has decreased since 2019,” the department said about high school students.

Louisiana consistently ranks low among states with respect to K-12 education, but a series of hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic has presented additional challenges.

“In the face of immense adversity, students, teachers, administrators and parents showed unwavering resiliency, demonstrating a deep commitment to both safety and learning,” Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said.

“This LEAP 2025 data will be invaluable in guiding our instructional, policy, and resource allocation decisions as we recover and accelerate from this unprecedented interruption to student learning,” Brumley said.

The tests are designed to measure student knowledge relative to grade level, and scores are reported across five categories: unsatisfactory, approaching basic, basic, mastery or advanced. Only students scoring mastery and advanced are considered proficient, or ready for the next grade level.

“Simultaneously, learning gaps deepened, as evidenced by a 5-percentage point increase in the number of students scoring Unsatisfactory,” the department said.

Children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and young children across all demographic groups were disproportionately affected over the past two years.

Math scores saw the largest decline compared with English language skills, science and social studies. Algebra I had the greatest single subject decline with a nine-point average decrease.

Like many states, Louisiana suffered school closures amid COVID-19 lockdowns, followed by masking and social distancing mandates when in-person schooling resumed. The unprecedented disruptions adversely affected student gains, officials said.

Louisiana’s 1,300 public schools received $287 million in federal emergency relief last year to cope with effects of the pandemic, while also teaching 17,000 fewer students.

This year, a record $4 billion in federal funding will flow directly to Louisiana’s local school systems pursuant to successive COVID-19 stimulus packages. The initiative includes $800 pay raises for teachers and purportedly will focus on accelerating student learning and educator development.

The $4 billion stimulus funding is in addition to the state’s record $3.9 billion education budget for the 2021-22 school year.

The DOE said the new LEAP results will help school districts apply the taxpayer-funded bonanza with targeted interventions and data-driven support.

Daniel Erspamer, chief executive officer of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, said the testing results confirm what many parents and concerned residents feared.

“We must act with urgency to support strong plans for recovery and to accelerate progress over the next few years,” he said.

“This will necessitate transparency in how $4 billion in federal recovery funds are spent to support academic interventions, a strong school accountability system to communicate progress toward proficiency, and expanded educational choices for families while that important recovery work is in progress,” Erspamer said.

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