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Friday, November 19, 2010

NH students surpass national average

While New Hampshire 12th graders overall bested the national average in math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, significant achievement gaps remain for low-income students and those with disabilities.

New Hampshire was one of 11 states to take part in a pilot version of the test, often dubbed “the nation’s report card.” Although high school seniors across the country have been tested in the past, this was the first time state-level data was available for that grade. New Hampshire students scored second-highest in math and reading among participating states, topped only by Massachusetts in both categories.

On the math section, New Hampshire seniors had an average scale score of 160 on a scale of 300, compared to the national average score of 152. In reading, New Hampshire seniors had an average scale score of 293 on a scale of 500, again better than the national average score of 287. The test was administered between January and March last school year.

Although all states are tested as part of the national result, 11 states took part in the pilot program to get state-level data for high school seniors. In addition to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, those states were Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, New Jersey, South Dakota, and West Virginia. New Hampshire was one of five states where students scored better than the national average in both math and reading.

As Tim Eccleston, the state’s NAEP coordinator, pointed out, low scores among some of the subgroups of students shows there is still work to be done.

“If you’re taking the state as a whole, we’re doing great,” he said.“But if one were to ask is there room for improvement, the obvious answer is absolutely.”

Individual high school results are not available, but scores are broken down into various subgroups. There remain significant achievement gaps among students who come from low-income households and students with disabilities. For example, 44 percent of all New Hampshire seniors scored proficient or better in reading, but only 26 percent of students eligible for free or reduced lunch and 15 percent of students with disabilities were able to reach that level.

The level of parental education also appears to be a strong indicator of success. While 53 percent of students whose parents graduated from college were able to demonstrate proficiency in reading, 31 percent of students whose parents who only graduated from high school were able to do the same.

Overall, 32 percent of New Hampshire seniors demonstrated proficiency in math. Similar achievement gaps are found in those categories in math.

Nationwide, approximately 1,500 public high schools with just over 95,000 students participated in the assessment. In New Hampshire, 60 high schools participated with approximately 4,300 students split between the reading and mathematics assessments. All local high schools took part in the test, except for Campbell High School in Litchfield, Eccleston said.

Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad said the NAEP doesn’t have a lot of value for individual schools and teachers. While it helps to know how the state overall is doing compared to the national average, that is the extent of its use as far as local educators are concerned, he said.

“It’s a valuable test because it’s the only national level test we have as a measure education progress, but we have to be careful because it isn’t necessarily aligned to New Hampshire standards,” Conrad said.

That may change with several states, including New Hampshire, adopting a set of common core standards, Conrad said.

When only looking at the scores of white students, who make up 91 percent of the state’s enrollment, scores in New Hampshire fall below the state average. Non-white students actually outperformed their white peers in New Hampshire in both math and reading. Typically, scores would be broken down into specific races, but Eccleston said there weren’t enough students to create a large enough sample size in each racial category.

Last year’s New England Common Assessment Program results showed that 33 percent of students scored proficient or better in math and 73 percent proficient or better in reading. While it’s useful for the state to have multiple measures of student performance, Eccleston cautioned against comparing the NAEP results to the NECAP. The two tests have different definitions of what constitutes proficiency, he said.

“It’s very difficult to compare two tests together. It’s almost impossible to do it,” he said.

While there have typically been state-level results for fourth and eighth grade, this is the first time it is available for 12th grade. The hope is that the data will be available again in four years for individual states for comparison, but Eccleston said it’s still not clear whether the funding will be there. The test is federally funded and there was no cost to the states who chose to take part in the pilot, he said.

“A lot of the questions are free response and those are expensive to grade,” he said.

As to how New Hampshire officials will use the data, Deb Wiswell, assessment coordinator for the state, said budget cuts will hamper any substantive analysis of how the scores impact math and reading curriculum. The state Department of Education has not been able to fill its math or reading specialist positions for several years because of lack of funding, she said.

“It’s very difficult to do much about curricular issues because we have not been able to fill those positions,” she said. “That’s a New Hampshire budget issue.”

For more information about NAEP or to take the test yourself, visit

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or