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  • STAFF PHOTO BY BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Third grade instructor Kim Reich reads a lesson about fractions during math class, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at Bicentennial Elementary School. Bicentennial Elementary School was placed in the state's "schools in need of improvement" list Tuesday, joining the rest of the city's public schools. Designations are determined by state test scores and the benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind.


  • STAFF PHOTO BY BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Priyanka Subramanian, right, along with third-grade classmates Ben Lambright and Jenna Brackett cut out flash cards during math class, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at Bicentennial Elementary School. Bicentennial Elementary School was placed in the state's "schools in need of improvement" list Tuesday, joining the rest of the city's public schools. Designations are determined by state test scores and the benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind.


  • STAFF PHOTO BY BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Third grade teacher Nancy Hicks helps out, top to bottom, Ishan Keezhakada, Anna Mathew and Elana Finkelstein with their flash cards during math class, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at Bicentennial Elementary School. The School was placed in the state's "schools in need of improvement" list Tuesday, joining the rest of the city's public schools. Designations are determined by state test scores and the benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind.


  • STAFF PHOTO BY BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Third graders work on flash cards during math class, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, at Bicentennial Elementary School. Bicentennial Elementary School was placed in the state's "schools in need of improvement" list Tuesday, joining the rest of the city's public schools. Designations are determined by state test scores and the benchmarks mandated by No Child Left Behind.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Every school in Nashua now designated ‘in need of improvement’

Bicentennial Elementary School principal Kyle Langille doesn’t mind high standards.

But after the Nashua school was tagged as “in need of improvement” for its math scores Tuesday, despite 91 percent of students scoring proficient or better in the subject on state assessments, Langille said she wasn’t putting too much stock into the newly designated label.

“I don’t think it changes anything for me,” Langille said Tuesday, after the latest round of Adequate Yearly Progress reports were released by the state Department of Education.

“The standards are extremely high,” Langille said. “I don’t have a problem with high standards, but I keep my eye on the long-term goal of progress for each child. We’ll just keep working until that happens.”

With the addition of Bicentennial Tuesday, all of Nashua’s 17 schools are now designated as being “in need of improvement.”

Langille said the school still mines the New England Common Assessment Program data used to measure annual progress, saying it’s “one piece of a very complex puzzle.” She tries not to worry too much about the “improvement” tag.

As part of the state’s compliance with No Child Left Behind, the AYP targets have increased every other year, to the point where all students must be proficient in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind act.

Schools must also meet participation, attendance and graduation benchmarks to make AYP.

However, state and local officials have questioned the “in need of improvement” label and called it “misleading” because the AYP standards have risen so high since the federal law was passed in 2002.

At Griffin Memorial School in Litchfield, 91 percent of the elementary students scored proficient or better in reading last fall. The school still failed to meet AYP reading benchmarks and was deemed “in need of improvement” in Tuesday’s reports.

Litchfield Superintendent Elaine Cutler said that “just doesn’t make sense,” considering that Griffin’s reading scores are among the 10 best in the state.

“It’s not a logical sequence of events,” she said. “We all want to do better and continuously improve, but it is never enough.”

Cutler said that’s what is happening at schools across New Hampshire and the country – even when students improve to high levels, the schools are still reported as failing.

About 71 percent of public schools in New Hampshire are “in need of improvement,” based on Tuesday’s AYP reports. Twenty-five schools joined the list this year after 307 of the school’s 469 public schools, or 65 percent, drew the “improvement” label in 2010-11.

“It makes you question the criteria and whether it has any relevance at all,” Cutler said.

State Education Commissioner Virginia Barry was more direct about the system’s flaws.

“This is ample evidence that the accountability system is broken, not that the vast majority of schools in New Hampshire are failing,” Barry said, in a statement. “In New Hampshire, we need an accountability system that rewards the great schools and accurately identifies those schools and districts that need our support.”

Schools are labeled as needing improvement after not making AYP for two consecutive years. That’s based on the results of the New England Common Assessment Program, an annual assessment of math and reading for students in grades 3-8, as well as high school juniors.

To make adequate progress, students must meet performance targets set by the state as a school and in specific subgroups of students, such as low income, special education and minorities.

Among the other local schools that received the “in need of improvement” tag after failing to meet AYP standards in reading or math: all six schools in Merrimack, all four in Milford, five of six schools in Hudson, two of three in Litchfield, two in Amherst, and one each in Brookline and Bedford.

Two-thirds of New Hampshire school districts – including Nashua, Amherst, Hudson, Merrimack, Milford, and Mont Vernon – did not meet AYP standards, while just 52 districts, or 32 percent, made the grade, including Hollis Brookline and Litchfield.

Also, Nashua High School South was one of 27 high schools across the state, or 33 percent, that did not meet AYP graduation rate targets. The designations are preliminary. Schools have 30 days to appeal to the state Department of Education.

Still, many districts use the reports as a great data resource, despite the labels. Langille said Bicentennial is able to identify signs of improvement or need among certain students with the raw data in AYP reports.

“We just haven’t given up,” Langille said. “Our scores continue to improve. It might not be the progress the state anticipates we have to make, but we have to take some solace in the fact we are making progress. Everyone knows how hard and how much work we do to make sure every child’s potential is maximized.”

The AYP standards may be on their way out, as New Hampshire has pledged to change its statewide testing format by 2014.

Paul Leather, deputy commissioner of education, has said the state will use the Smarter Balanced Assessment, an online adaptive test, in place of the NECAP starting in 2013-14. A new accountability system to replace AYP has not yet been determined.

“New Hampshire is nationally recognized for innovative practices, including course competencies. AYP as an accountability system does not capture the performance of our schools and districts in implementing these practices, which is why the department is working closely with our schools around the future of accountability,” Leather said in a statement.

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).