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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Little change in NH reading, math test results

Reading and math scores among New Hampshire students stayed flat over the past year, according to standardized test results released by the state Department of Education on Monday.

Seventy-seven percent of students scored proficient or better in reading on the New England Common Assessment Program administered in October. That is the same percentage as the year before. In math, 66 percent of students scored proficient or better this year, also the same as the year before.

While scores didn’t regress, Tim Kurtz, director of assessment for the state Department of Education, said the lack of progress isn’t what state officials were looking for, either.

“Ideally, you would like to see small but marked improvement every year,” Kurtz said.

The NECAP is given to students in grades 3-8 and 11 each fall, measuring their proficiency in math, reading and writing. The math and reading results are used to measure whether schools and districts are making adequate yearly progress, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind act. Schools won’t find out until early April whether their scores reflected enough progress from the previous year.

The stagnant statewide scores were reflected in the Nashua School District’s results, as well. In Nashua schools, 73 percent of students were proficient or better in reading this year, down slightly from 74 percent last year. Math scores also went down slightly, from 61 percent proficient last year to 60 percent this year.

“We are disappointed in the results, in that we didn’t see any consistent broad levels of gains across subject areas,” Superintendent Mark Conrad said.

Despite the disappointment of overall results, there are some areas of progress, Conrad said. Dr. Crisp and Ledge Street elementary schools made significant gains in reading and math, he said. At Dr. Crisp, 65 percent of students scored proficient or better in reading, up from 55 percent last year. And at Ledge Street, 66 percent of students scored proficient or better in reading, up from 60 percent.

Conrad was also pleased with the increase in high school math results. Thirty percent of the city’s 11th-graders scored proficient or better in math, up from 27 percent.

Writing scores improved this year, jumping from 50 percent proficiency or better last year to 55 percent this year. Writing scores do not count in the state’s accountability system.

The news wasn’t so good in other areas. For example, while math proficiency at the middle schools has remained steady over the past three years, it has gone from 64 percent proficiency in 2008 to 55 percent this year.

“One of the conversations we’ll have is whether we’ve allocated time correctly to math in the middle schools in comparison to other subjects,” Conrad said.

Responding to low scores across the district, Nashua developed a math steering committee last summer to look into the issue. Conrad said the committee would present its results to the Board of Education in a work session in the spring.

While good for identifying deficiencies in programs over time, Conrad said the NECAP results aren’t particularly useful when identifying individual students who are struggling.

The test is given in October, but the results don’t come back to the district for several months.

Also, students are being tested in the beginning of the year on what they were taught the year before, he said.

The district does use other assessments that give real-time results to identify and help students falling behind, he said.

“Changes may have already been made that will lead to different results in the next round of NECAPs,” Conrad said.

The future of the NECAP and school accountability is up in the air.

No Child Left Behind has been due for reauthorization for several years, but Congress has not taken any action to change the law. During his State of the Union address last month, President Barack Obama said he wanted to “replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids.”

Kurtz said states are in a wait-and-see mode and must continue with the current accountability system until the law is amended.

Meanwhile, the state is focusing on examining the Common Core Standards, which the state Board of Education voted to adopt in principle last year.

Kurtz said state officials are examining the differences between the state’s current standards and the new set of national standards. Implementing the Common Core Standards will take several years and require a new assessment.

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.