May 10, 2021

Mercedes Schneider: The Testing Game, Louisiana-style

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Mercedes Schneider provides a picture of what the testing game looks like from the student perspective. Reposted with permission .

Let’s say that I am at the end of my freshman year of high school in Louisiana. I must take two Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) exams: English I and Algebra I. So long as I minimally pass these exams (“approaching basic”), I am good for graduation three years from now. Furthermore, my state exam score counts as my final exam in the class (between 15 and 30 percent of my fourth quarter grade, according to state specifications; see below).

If I score the highest level on my LEAP exams (“advanced”), then I get an A as an exam grade. If I score the second highest level (“mastery”), I get a B. The third level, “basic,” gets me a C, and the fourth (and lowest passing) level, “approaching basic,” earns a D.

Given that the state exams last between 225 and 260 minutes each, I might zoom through my LEAP test, aiming, if you will, for the lowest score that will satisfy graduation requirements and will also get me a passing exam grade in the class.

But my zooming could well more severely impact my school’s letter grade. My school gets 150 points if I score “advanced,” 100 points if I score “mastery,” 80 points if I score “basic,” and nothing if I score “approaching basic” or “unsatisfactory.”

And my school gets nothing if I must retake the test in the future once I am no longer enrolled in the associated course for the first time.

I don’t really know all of this, and even if I did, since I’m 14 years old and the testing marathon is a real downer for me, I probably would not care. My English I test is divided into three sessions of 90 minutes, another 90 minutes, and 80 minutes. I tried the most for the first session. By the second and third sessions, I had enough, so I put forth less effort with the goal to get this done as soon as possible. “Approaching basic” is good enough for me.

Besides, if I do not pass the English I or Algebra I exams, there’s always next year. According to state requirements, I need only pass English I or English II, or Algebra I or geometry. So, if I pass both exams my freshman year, then the pressure is off of me to pass either exam my sophomore year. If I flunk both state exams in English II and geometry, I could still pass my courses so long as I have at least a high C going into the exams. It isn’t glamorous, but it works.

I must also pass the LEAP exam in biology (240 minutes; sophomore year) or US history (225 minutes; junior year). In order to satisfy graduation requirements, I could aim for a minimum score just like I did on my previous tests.

So, on what, exactly, is my school being graded?

Could be my willingness to engage for several hours in standardized testing. Could be my exhaustion over the length of the tests. Could be my knowledge that I have already passed enough of these tests to satisfy graduation requirements. Could be my knowing that even if I fail, my class average is high enough for me to still pass the class.

Now, I might also really care about my grades, and so, I try to do well on LEAP tests. But they are so long, and they wear me out. I think the state is testing my test-taking endurance more than my knowledge of a subject. My Algebra I test had four parts, taking 25 minutes, 55 minutes, and then two at 80 minutes apiece. I had an A in the class, but I only scored “mastery” on my LEAP, so it brought my grade down. I am disappointed because that test was just too long.

What I don’t know is that if my score is lower than otherwise simply because of testing fatigue, my school is also penalized, in this case 50 points (the per-student, school-scoring difference from “mastery” to “advanced”).

Did my school just get graded on my ability to endure 240 minutes of testing?

Then comes the complications of COVID. Since LEAP testing did not happen in 2019-20, many students who would otherwise have had two opportunities to pass one math or one English exam (or either biology or US history) now only have one chance. According to the rules of the game, students must be currently enrolled in a LEAP-tested course in order for the school to receive credit towards the school grade. So, if students who were exempted from Algebra I as 2019-20 freshmen due to COVID do not pass the geometry LEAP as 2020-21 sophomores, those students can subsequently take the Algebra I LEAP, but the school would receive a zero since the student would not be enrolled in Algebra I at the time of testing.

Will the school receive a zero in such cases? Will the state waive the penalty? Does the state need to request such a waiver from the federal government in connection with Title I funding?

As of this writing, Louisiana schools are still in limbo on that issue and all that is associated with 2020-21 school grades in Louisiana. The Louisiana legislature wants state superintendent Cade Brumley to wait until after LEAP testing season is over to see how it all went before deciding how, exactly, to grade schools, and, if the decision is that schools should not be graded, to petition the feds for their permission.

It’s all in the game, folks. It’s all in the game.

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