APPEL: Louisiana’s LEAP Test Woes

Not near as sexy as a Supreme Court nominee or the escape of those kids from a Thai cave the news last week included a release of the state’s LEAP test results.

Most folks just glaze over when they hear another report on education results but this issue has much more to do with our future than most other things. Louisiana has been stuck at or near the bottom in education outcomes for as long as can be remembered and this report offered no real reason for hope that unenviable statistic is changing.

Even though generally the LEAP test results were disappointingly flat perhaps more concerning was an even more mundane report that was issued a few months ago. This was the release of the NAEP results. Wow, now I will really lose a lot of you!

In VERY simplistic terms here is the difference, LEAP measures the ability of Louisiana kids to perform on purely Louisiana terms AND only include public school kids. These results are not in any way comparable to those of kids in other states. NAEP (also known as the Nation’s Report Card) is a national organization that tests kids in reading and math skills. Their results are comparable between states AND they include kids from private schools. In effect NAEP results are a snapshot of where we are as a nation and how well each state ranks in comparison to each other.

Now here’s the problem. For decades, according to NAEP, Louisiana students (public and private) have performed substantially below the national average, an average which by the way is not so great. To my view a lack of growth in LEAP scores is concerning but since LEAP has been tainted by politics it should be viewed with some skepticism. On the other hand, NAEP is very concerning.

So a few questions;

  • Are Louisiana kids fundamentally different from kids in successful states?
  • Are Louisiana’s teachers much worse than teachers in successful states?
  • Do we so underfund education that these results are inevitable?
  • Is poverty in Louisiana somehow different from poverty in successful states?

My answer to all of these is a resounding no! In fact we have more than a hundred poverty-stricken schools in our state that have posted very high results.

So what are the common denominators that may be precursors of success? I believe that there are two. First and perhaps most significant is a home setting in which education is paramount and there are no excuses for failure. Ok you say, I am living in LA LA Land as we have so much poverty and so many broken homes. True, but we must be cognizant that our poor NAEP scores represent children not only from poverty conditions, conditions that breed broken homes, but they also include children from economically stable situations. The point is that we do not do well in either case and therefore it is clear that we as a people are far too accepting of lower standards and results.

My other common denominator is that all of our schools are under some form of direct local control. In the case of the majority of children in our public schools that takes the form of school boards. In the case of private schools it takes the form of some other structure, but in all cases it is local. The state’s function in education control is generally limited to policy and some funding but the actual decision making that results in the success of students is local. The point to be derived from this is that we as a people are far too accepting of failure from our schools and far too willing to allow elected officials and other management people off the hook for that failure.

I don’t have the answer to these fundamental failures of our society to reject failure and to demand success. Perhaps it is baked in to our psyche and can’t be changed. But I prefer to live in LA LA Land, a place where I believe that all kids can learn, it is the adults that have failed them. Those poverty-stricken-yet-successful schools that are scattered around our state tell me that I am right. That when victimhood, poverty, and all those other excuses are cast aside Louisiana kids are just as capable as those anywhere.

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