LEAP Pressure Rising

REPORTER:  Jeff Ferrell

DATE:  March 16, 2006

The "buttlerflies" are already fluttering inside the stomachs of tens of thousands of children across Louisiana, including right here in the Ark-La-Tex.  It's all in anticipation of the LEAP Test, which begins next Monday, March 20th.  Fourth and eighth graders who don't pass will be headed to summer school and more testing.

It sounded like a funeral, even looked like a funeral. In fact, for the students at Claiborne Elementary back on March 3, in Shreveport, it was a funeral of sorts for "worn out" words, acted out by students.  Teacher Rhonda Ansley told News 12 the exercise was intended to help students prepare for the approaching LEAP Test.  "We went through and they wrote eulogies, looking up synonyms for those words.  That way when the LEAP Test comes, we can use more vivid words."  Pre-test practice and studying is not just happening at Claiborne Elementary.

.  "I'm excited.  I just got this.  I've been chosen as Best Principal by Bossier Press Tribune," said Apollo Elementary Principal Julie Dupree, as she held up her award, along with the best elementary award for her school, as well.  Achievement is everything in a state system where testing scores help decide everything from a student's fate to that of the school and staff.  That kind of pressure can make some students freeze-up, said Dupree .  "Every year we have a couple of kids who nobody suspected that they might not pass the test and they don't.  And that's the sad part."

The pressure extends to school staff, said Dupree.  "If we don't continue to grow each year by two performance points then we will be labeled a school in decline."  As for critics who argue schools are forced to teach to the test these days, she answered, "are we teaching to the test?  Yes, because we're testing what we teach."

LEAP testing goes far beyond bubbles to fill in.  It requires a lot of writing and a lot of comprehension and explanation of the subject matter.  And with minimum standards raised this year, more students could be headed to summer school.  Dupree concluded, "if you've got someone who's making D's or F's , chances are they might not pass this test."

Now in her sixth year, Principal Dupree is very familiar with a problem in successful schools:  Reaching a plateau.  Some critics have argued, unsuccessfully so far, that there is a threshhold where standards could rise so high that they create simply too much pressure for everyone.  Testing begins Monday and runs through Thursday.