Louisiana's drive toward a key education target barely moved for the fourth consecutive year, according to figures released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

A total of 35 percent of students in grades 3-8 reached the state's goal -- mastery -- in tests that measure English, math and social studies skills.

That is up 1 percentage point over 2018 and 2 points since 2016.

State Superintendent of Education John White said 70 percent of school districts showed gains over 2018, which he called great news.

The test, LEAP 2025, is in its 20th year in various forms and has long been considered a key gauge in state efforts to improve classroom achievement.

Students fared best in English/language arts, with 44 percent achieving mastery -- the second highest of five achievement levels.

That marked a gain of 1 percentage point over last year and the fifth consecutive year of increases.

"Louisiana students are reading and writing incrementally and steadily better every single year," White told reporters.

However, 34 percent of students achieved mastery in math -- up 2 points -- and 28 percent did so in social studies -- down 1 point.

The results point up the need for better math instruction, especially in later elementary and middle school grades, according to the state Department of Education.

Officials made the same point last year.

"At the end of the day the answer lies in recruiting and retaining our math teachers," White said. "Our math teachers are being picked off by other industries offering them more lucrative salaries."

Students will have to average mastery by 2025 for schools to earn an A-rating.

White said steady gains are important in the growth of students achieving mastery overall because of the volume of those being quizzed.

He said that, since 2015, over 20,000 students who failed to achieve mastery in any subject are doing so now.

"And this is not a shift that is going to happen overnight," White said. "You are talking about moving the expectations and the capacity of an entire system."

The Zachary School District remains tops in the state on the exams, with 57 percent of students achieving mastery, a two-point gain over 2018.

The Central School District showed some of the top gains in Louisiana, with 54 percent of its students reaching mastery, a four-point improvement and No. 2 in the state.

Other districts include Ascension, 52 percent, up 2; East Baton Rouge, 32 percent, up 2; Jefferson, 32 percent, up 1; Lafayette, 39 percent, up 2; Livingston, 47 percent, up 4; Orleans, 26 percent, no change; St. Bernard, 37 percent, no change; St. Charles, 47 percent, down 3; St. John the Baptist, 24 percent, down 3; St. Martin, 30 percent, down 1; St. Tammany, 47 percent, up 2; West Baton Rouge, 33 percent, up 1; West Feliciana 49 percent, up 2; Baker, 13 percent, down 3; Iberville, 30 percent, no change; Plaquemines, 47 percent, up 4 and Tangipahoa Parish, 25 percent, no change.



Email Will Sentell @wsentell@theadvocate.com.