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Students’ test results concern Nashua BOE

NASHUA — The percentage of New Hampshire fifth-graders rated “proficient” in math, science and English dropped from the 2017-18 academic term to the 2018-19 school year.

New Hampshire Department of Education officials have said they distribute individual student results to families by the end of each school year.

Still, in the face of these statistics, Nashua Board of Education members are now evaluating the performances of students at these six elementary schools:

• Amherst Street Elementary School

• Birch Hill Elementary School

• Broad Street Elementary School

• Mount Pleasant Elementary School

• Main Dunstable Elementary School

• Ledge Street Elementary School.

“I’m looking at these scores, and whatever we’re using, these scores are telling us it’s not working – whether it’s reading, or whether it’s math,” Board member Doris Hohensee said during a Curriculum and Evaluation Committee meeting on Sept. 9.

“I’m not seeing growth. I’m not even seeing stability. I’m seeing that we’re not doing well for our students. If these three years are accurate, we need to reassess what we’re teaching. I don’t care if the state says that these are best standards or not. Our evidence is saying these are not the best standards. They’re not producing growth,” she added.

“To me, these figures are proof of either we’re doing the right job, or we’re not doing the right job,” board member Elizabeth Van Twuyver said. “We’re going down in these things. We have ever since I’ve been on the board.”

The six schools have been identified for additional support by the New Hampshire Department of Education. They fall into three categories: Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools, Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) schools and Additional Targeted Support (ATS) schools. Amherst Street, Birch Hill, Broad Street, Mount Pleasant and Main Dunstable were identified as Additional Targeted Support (ATS) schools. ATS schools are identified if any of their subgroups perform at or below the lowest performing 5% of the school.

One other elementary school, Ledge Street Elementary School, was also targeted for additional support. Ledge Street, however, was identified as a CSI school. Ledge Street is among the lowest performing 5% of Title I schools in New Hampshire, or a high school has a four-year graduation rate of 67% or less. District officials have been working to implement an improvement plan for the school.

The Process

The department states that for each indicator, every considered subgroup receives an overall level ranging from one to four based on their student performance. Schools will be identified as ATS if any of their subgroups perform at or below the lowest performing 5% of the school.

According to DOE standards, subgroups are considered if there are 11 or more students with a score on an indicator for a given school. Subgroups are based on the following: economically disadvantaged, racial/ ethnic, students with disabilities and English language learners. If fewer than 11 students in a subgroup are enrolled, that particular indicator would not be considered.

During the Sept. 9 meeting, Nashua Assistant Superintendent Garth McKinney said Nashua’s identified ATS schools are looking to make not only academic growth and performance improvement, but also show a performance increase in various subgroups. McKinney said the subgroups include students who are economically disadvantaged, racial ethnic groups, students with disabilities and English Language Learner students.

One challenge the ATS schools face is having growth for the subgroup of students with special needs. McKinney said some of these schools house a large number of special education students.

“The challenge is for special education students. If you’re severely disabled, there’s another assessment you can take. But then after that, everyone else takes the same one. So, these kids have to show the same level of growth and achievement as all the other students,” McKinney said.

“The challenge for these five schools over the next two years is to show both overall achievement and growth, but also within that subgroup around special education students,” he added.

Schools that do not make academic or achievement progress during the span of three years can go from an ATS school to a CSI school, though McKinney said they certainly hope that won’t happen with the five identified ATS schools.

As for Ledge Street, McKinney said the state provided training for this school and a CSI grant for an allocation of funds. He said they also went through a detailed analysis of their student performance data. They also put together improvement plans and had to file it with the state and any activity they try or are going to try to do at that school has to align to that improvement plan in order to receive grant funding.

Each year, school students take an assessment which is monitored by the state. Results will show whether the school is improving in different areas.

McKinney shared data with the committee on district-wide i-Ready scores, as well a Student Assessment System (SAS) testing in reading and math categories.

The Concerns

The data provided by McKinney drew concerns from several board members other than Hohensee and Van Twuyver.

“If we’re looking at data that continues to disappoint, we need to look as part of this deep dive and ask ourselves are we using the correct curriculum that enables our teachers to teach our students as they become proficient in the subject matter,” board member Howard Coffman said.

“I want to know what’s being done on a remedial basis to fix this,” Coffman added.

McKinney said this is one assessment from the state that provides one snapshot in time of how the students do.

“I don’t think there’s a teacher in the district that goes day-to-day not looking to do the best for their kids with the resources that they have, with the test and the game that’s been assigned to them for subgroups and so many other things,” McKinney said.

Board Chair Susan Porter suggested hosting another discussion that would allow for a deeper dive into the data.

McKinney said officials will be discussing curriculum management plans this year. He also said there are several free modules similar to SAS that teachers can administer to students in the classroom.

“They can see right away which ones (the students) got right, which ones they got wrong,” McKinney said. “They can use it as a teaching tool… they can see the highest performing kids in their class, the lowest performing kids in their class and those are available in grades 3-8. We do encourage teachers to use them.”

The district will be utilizing PerformancePLUS, a system that allows schools to analyze student data, as well as several other tactics to enhance student performance.

School Superintendent Jahmal Mosley added that these issues will be addressed through the district’s new Strategic Plan.

Grace Pecci may be reached at 594-1243 or at gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.