George Lucas Educational Foundation

Help Me, I'm Failing: Louisiana Students Falling Behind Learn How to Move Ahead

A middle school program helps keep students from being left behind and left despondent.
By Jo Cavallo
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When Althea Williams learned that her daughter, Jakeitha, now fourteen, was going to be retained in the sixth grade, she met with school officials to investigate alternatives to what she believed was a drastic and potentially damaging step.

Fortunately, Jakeitha happened to be in the right place at the right time: Eual J. Landry Middle School in Hahnville, Louisiana, which has an alternative program to help at-risk students turn their educational careers around. The program, called Teenagers in Middle Education (TIME), was started ten years ago in response to a growing recognition that students who repeat grades often sink further into an academic quagmire.

Students who end up dropping out are five times as likely to have repeated a grade, and those who have been held back two or more times almost always quit school, according to a 1990 study by educational researchers Lorrie A. Shepard and Mary Lee Smith. The social stigma associated with retention is equally devastating. Children say that only going blind or losing a parent would be more stressful, according to another study.

The TIME program serves roughly thirty students who are two years or more behind their peers academically. The key to its success is small class size and more-individualized attention. Just one month after entering the TIME program, for instance, Jakeitha's schoolwork improved -- not just in math, but in her other subjects as well. This fall, two years after she entered the program, she will join her peers as a freshman in high school.

Before entering TIME, "I was ignored in the bigger classes by my teachers," says Jakeitha. "But in TIME, because the class size was smaller, I got more attention and the teacher explained the subjects better."

The TIME program is divided into two sections: a sixth- and seventh-grade combination and an eighth-grade group. Each class is limited to fifteen students. Eighth-graders who do well and are able to pass the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) test are eligible to move into high school.

"One major benefit of the program is that students can make up an academic year, and that is what initially drives them to succeed," says Trina Douglas, a math and science teacher in the program. "We tell them, 'You're two years behind, but if you're successful academically and socially, we can make up a year.' And what we find is that many students who, in the past, skipped school a lot begin to have really good school attendance."

Students' ability to succeed in school and get promoted relieves them of the anger and resentment they might feel at being left behind, adds Douglas. As a result, problems like bullying are rapidly eliminated. "Kids don't have to linger in grades longer than they need to," Douglas says. "They see that there is a way out, so they are prone to do the positive instead of the negative. They're not angry."

Academic success also leads to an increased level of self-esteem, according to Dianne Powell, principal of Landry. Result: "A good, positive cycle," she says.

For instance, in the 2001-2002 academic year, TIME students had a 100 percent LEAP pass rate in language arts, and in 2003-2004, an 82 percent LEAP pass rate in math. This is a major accomplishment, Powell says. Anecdotally, the success rate appears to be high, although Powell and her colleagues at Landry don't have statistics on the number of TIME participants who have graduated from high school.

Credit: Jo Cavallo

TIME students get to create their own list of achievement goals, along with rules to help them meet these aims, another factor contributing to their success. "We make our expectations clear and ask each class to come up with the recommendations it needs to accomplish its goals," says Douglas. "We ask students, 'What do you need to succeed, what rules should we have in order for you to accomplish your goals, and what should happen if you break those rules?'"

"I'm not saying we have a 100 percent success rate," says Douglas, "but we have a lot of our students coming back to tell us they're graduating." She adds, "Normally these are the students you would pinpoint to be dropouts by the time they get to high school."

Jo Cavallo is a freelance writer living in New York City. Write to

Comments (7) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

A Parent In Need's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to have some more infomation on this subject, I am struggling at this time because I have a hild who I think will become a part of this article. My son is failing and will be repeating the eight grade, he repeated the 7th grade so that makes him a second time repeater. My chances of keeping my child in school is growing weaker by the minute, he has become very discouraged. I would like to know are there any of your programs in Upstate NY, we do have the "NO Child Left Behind Act, but that only focuses on ELA/Math and that's not enough at this time.

A Parent In Need.

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

To the previous commenter: I'm not sure what middle school interventions you've tried. Have you talked with your child's principal and counselors in the school district about learning options that might be available? Have learning disabilities been ruled out? Find a sympathetic person at the school or district and see if he/she might help you navigate through the bureaucracy. Talking with a child psychologist or therapist might also be something to consider.

At the high school level, there may be alternative schools that speak to your son's needs. For example, check out the Big Picture Schools as profiled in the Edutopia article, "Learning One on One."

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to know more about the interventions, the staff training and strategies used to help students catch up. Was it a "canned" program, or better teaching and building a relationship with students that made the difference? Also, to what degree did parental support play in the students' success?

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

my granddaughter who is a third grader in jefferson parish public school is taking her leap test. she is in the third grade. she has been doing so good in school but my daughter just called and said that she failed her leap tests as during the last couple of days she has totally changed and did not answer the questions in the tests and somehow became a little smartie to the teacher. she knows all the answers but turned her paper in after only 5 minutes of the test and had all the answers wrong as she just filled it up with anything that came to her mind. she then went to the teacher and asked her for her snacks which really upset her teacher. tomorrow her teacher is afraid that she will go into one of her moods again and start talking during the test and purposely not answer the questions. since her class is having an evaluation day tomorrow, her teacher is afraid she will mess up the evaluation. i told her mom to keep her home because it is not fair for the teacher to get a low evaluation just because this child is acting up.

this child is very smart and intelligent but sometimes she needs a knock on her head and maybe she needs to fail the third grade just to show her that even is she is intelligent there are consiquences to her action and she needs to learn.

will she actually fail the third grade if she fails the leap test? can she retake it after we get her attitude fixed with a little knock on her head, if needed?

Chris O'Neal's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

To the 3rd grade grandparent above, and the parent of the 7th grader, a few thoughts...

First, please IMMEDIATELY make an appointment with your child's primary teacher, and ask that the guidance counselor be present. It is extremely important not to postpone this meeting. I do not know the current regulations for the LEAP test in Louisiana, nor the NY testing rules. I do know, however, that in both cases these are "high-stakes tests" meaning that there are certainly ramifications for the students who do not pass.

I'd say it's much better to figure this out as early as possible - meaning right this minute! Schedule a meeting right away with the school. Have a babysitter stay with the 3rd grader, so you and the parent can have an extended, thoughtful discussion with the teacher and counselor without the student present. Explain what's happening, ask to hear their thoughts, and be bold in asking for concrete advice, and don't leave without a plan/strategy for concretely addressing the situation. There may be factors at school that you're not aware of, that a meeting can clear up. If needed, ask for what other resources are available for children who need it.

Don't postpone getting the meeting scheduled. Be bold, but positive. Ask for names and phone numbers of additional people you can contact for help, as well. There really are lots of resources, you just have to be persistent in getting to them as quickly and directly as possible.

In the meantime, you might also call the numbers below, just to get clarification on the testing requirements.
In Louisiana, call the Louisiana Department of Education, the Division of Standards at (225) 342-3406.

In New York, call the New York State Education Department at (518) 474-3852 if you need further information on the passing requirements, state assistance for tutoring, etc.

Please keep us posted.

Chris O'Neal

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My child faild the Louiana i LEAP.She is in the 6th grade,she has neved fail any state test before. I don't know what the standers are for failing the test. Will she still pass to the 7th gade? she is a honor roll student make all A's and B's.Please help I'm hurt and so is she. :(

Stewart's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a middle school counselor and would like more information on the TIME Program to see if this is a program that will benefit my school.

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