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This spring, Domonique Crosby graduated from George Washington Carver High School in New Orleans. When she got her diploma, she was 20 years old. But she wasn’t the only person in her class who was older than a typical high school student. The Education Research Alliance at Tulane University says around one-third of K-12 students in Louisiana repeat at least one grade. In New Orleans, the number is even higher: 40 percent of students have been held back at least once.

Like thousands of other students, Domonique failed a standardized test called the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) in fourth grade and she was automatically held back.

Domonique says it’s hard being an overage student, and at times she just wanted to drop out. In fact, students who are held back are at a high risk of dropping out.

“I was like, ‘Why am I still in school if I’m older than everybody else?’” she says. “You know, school wasn’t for me no more.”

It used to be that schools in Louisiana passed students along to the next grade even when the students were failing. That’s called social promotion. But Louisiana schools reversed course after Hurricane Katrina. They switched to mandatory retention. That meant teachers had to hold back students who weren’t passing the LEAP test in fourth or eighth grades. Seventeen states have similar policies that require holding back students in the third grade if they don’t pass a standardized reading test. In Louisiana, LEAP testing and mandatory retention resulted in thousands of students being forced to repeat grades.

Many of those students who were held back are older now, and in high school.

Journalist Katy Reckdahl took notice.

She started calling state education officials and asking, “Why are there so many kids held back? What’s going on here?’”

She thought maybe it was an effect from Hurricane Katrina.

“But then when I got the numbers for New Orleans and for Louisiana – and you know a lot of Louisiana was not affected by Katrina – New Orleans was a little bit worse but Louisiana was still really bad on retention,” she says. “And as I talked to more people it was clear that it was an effect of standardized testing.”

Reckdahl recently wrote about overage students in Louisiana and investigated the impacts of retention for The Hechinger Report. So many students have been held back due to mandatory retention that in 2017 the Louisiana State Legislature decided to end it. Now, schools offer summer classes, online classes and help from specialized teachers as alternatives for students who don’t pass the LEAP test.

Reckdahl says there’s one big takeaway from the state’s “experiment” with retention.

“It’s not enough to scare a kid into performing,” she says. “You can’t just say I’m going to hold you back.”

Listen to the podcast to hear more about how so many students in Louisiana got held back.

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Letters to the Editor

7 Letters

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  1. January 6, 2021
    I recently found your article about Louisiana LEAP testing. Louisiana has not done away with the policy of holding students back if they fail the LEAP. They only changed it a little to require students to attend summer school to try again to pass the test. I would like to see the test done away with completely. Students do not benefit from passing the test. The schools do. A student can pass all of his or her regular school subjects and have a passing grade for the year, but fail the LEAP and still be held back if they don’t pass it in summer school. This year in particular is hard for students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools closed very early at the end of the spring term. Then they started late in the fall. Not only that, but then students were sent home to quarantine 2 weeks at a time if they were in close proximity to anyone that tested positive for the virus. The LEAP is a test they normally study for all year. They are just now, this week even beginning to mention it, much less prepare for it. Students are stressed enough just trying to catch up on regular studies they missed. How can they be expected to perform well on one single test that determines their future? I am not a fan of standardized testing. Especially since it’s only the schools that benefit from them, not the students. Every student is different and I don’t believe they should all be lumped together by a test. I would like to see something done about this, but I don’t know where to start.
    A concerned grandmother

  2. I agree completely with you, Sandra Gilcrease! I’m a mother of 3 and 2 of which are diagnosed Mild Intellectual Delay (which I’m not sure they got they diagnosis correct). Special Ed and the “inclusion” system, as well as the “No Child Left Behind” act is a joke! The “inclusion” system should be a choice that is made with the parents…parents should have the say so if they feel like their children should be in with regular ed students or not. The only reason it is in effect is because some parents moaned for their children to be like everyone else and that is fine for those people, but not everyone agrees. I, for one, feel that my children is hindered because they’re suppose to keep up with regular ed students. I don’t feel that is right because they’re in special ed because they can’t keep up with the regular curriculum. The LEAP test is just another hinderance for our kids because their competency shouldn’t be based on one test!

  3. I agree because , I don’t feel its fair that students aren’t able to graduate because of failing the leap after so much hard work they’ve put in. I am an 11th grader and I have not passed neither leap test for any subject and my grades are good. I feel like there’s no since in taking the test , especially through a stressful pandemic.

  4. My daughter has to take NWEA testing, so why does she have to take LEAP testing too? Can you decline LEAP testing?

  5. Leap should be done away with it stresses w child out and it is jot fair. Leap did not count in 2020, and it was said on the news that it won’t count this year2021, so it would be unfair for it to count next year for students. Just do away with it. Children are stressed and when you’re stressed you don’t perform at you’re best! It’s not right! Just stop it!

  6. I feel like Leap testing shouldn’t be done away with, HOWEVER I do NOT think they have this right either. I think if a student studies and puts all the effort into making good grades and passing tests all school year long why would ONE TEST fail this child? That is barbaric. Instead, shouldn’t this one test show MORE about the school itself, the teachers, principals, the educators themselves? Had they prepared these children for these tests and taught their curriculum around what’s on these tests then the kids would be ready for this test. No preparing would be necessary, because hadn’t then they prepared all year for the test? Why aren’t these test scores looked at in a whole and it be seen that THIS SCHOOL, or THIS PARTICULAR TEACHERS scores are low and they be graded accordingly. These kids did their jobs all school year. So u tell me, how is this fair??? Put the educators on the stand and hold them accountable to the tough questions.

  7. Every year around graduation time I am still living this nightmare of my son not grauating in 2004 because of the math leap which he had taken 5 times. I knew for a fact he passed that test. Not only that, the principal would not let him walk. But the whites walked when they didn’t pass the leap and I have proof. We called the school board and they told us that it was up to the principal. The principal told us No. This took a toll on my son and almost destroyed him and me. My one and only son and the only one in his class that did not graduate. And from this day it hurts. Then I looked into the situation and I found out that it was a law suit with some of the teachers and some how my son name was in that suit. And then on my son was the victim. It was told to me before school started that the suprintent said that my son is not going to graduate. He had already made that decision. But I am going to keep looking into this until I can get closure.

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