Assistant Superintendent of Schools Andrew Corey presented the school board with the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) results from the most recent testing last fall. He told the board at its Tuesday, Feb. 19 meeting, that reports were to go home to parents last week, either in backpacks or in the mail. “Overall, Londonderry did very well again,” Corey said.
“Statistically I would say there was very little change, and we continue to place 80 percent of our students in reading as proficient or better, and approximately 66 percent of our students proficient or better in math.” Corey said NECAP testing takes place about six weeks into the school year and tests on what was learned in the previous year.
“The state along with the country is moving to the Common Core state standards, so the testing will be changing in the near future from NECAP to what is called Smarter Balance, a computer testing system which will be implemented in 2014/2015,” Corey said. He said all grades improved their historical or seven-year average. “Every single grade saw improvement, he said.
“That is a trend that we hope will continue. “Another goal that was in the Middle School was in writing, and the Middle School saw a 15 percent gain in their proficient or better students over last year,” he said. “They were up to 72 percent of the building, and that’s a credit to all their hard work.” The students who took the test last year are not the same ones tested this year.
Corey said the district looks at the test results in two ways. “The first way is using that historical average to evaluate our curriculum,” he said. “Statistically the students from year to year, though they’re not the same students, should be in a range. So we’re always looking at those to find out what’s going on. The other way we look at them is we try to track students over time.”
He cautioned that by testing and putting students in proficiency levels 1, 2, 3, or 4, skills are being missed for those who are gifted in different areas. “For me, it’s that balance between performance on the standardized test but at the same time developing that well-rounded individual that we as a community are proud to see move on. Ultimately, the statistics provide information and that’s what we’re after,” Corey said. Corey said the intent is to increase the high school graduation rate. He noted Londonderry sends 88 percent of its graduates to a two- or four-year college and 75 percent of Special Education students to two- and four-year colleges.
“I can tell you at the point we’re at, with 80 percent proficient or better in reading, for us to make what’s called adequate yearly progress we’d have to make a 10 percent gain. Statistically it’s almost impossible,” Corey said. Corey said by 2014 every student in the United States, from the brightest to the most severely handicapped, is supposed to be testing as proficient, according to the federal law. “Statistically, it’s not going to happen,” Corey said.
He sees math scores as a statewide problem. He said the current curriculum in math produces a good background for two or four-year college but does not work with the test, which assumes everyone is ready for second-year algebra as a junior. Londonderry teaches that class to seniors. “As a district we have intentionally designed our program to meet the needs of the kids, not for the kids to pass a test,” Corey said.
School Board Vice Chair Nancy Hendricks, sitting in for chairman John Laferriere who was ill, asked about the low numbers in writing and reading. Corey said the curriculum coordinators will look at the data and the students who tested at levels 1 and 2 (the lowest levels) and look at what English classes they’re in. If such a student is in Honors English, there will be some discussion.
“Some juniors don’t take the test that seriously because it doesn’t count,” he said. School board member John Robinson said he had for a long time had the opinion that the tests were “of dubious merit. “One thing that we can’t dispute is the numbers, for example in grade 7, the state reading at 77, district reading 68, state math 69, district math 55. It means that no matter how valid the tests are, most districts, the ones that don’t teach to the test, are doing better than us,” Robinson said.
Robinson said there was a range of schools the district compares itself to in areas such as payroll, and he wondered if those districts could be used for a comparison in test scores. Corey said that could be done for grades 3 through 8 but he would be concerned with high school numbers, because some districts test by credits and others by social grades. He said he would look into Robinson’s suggestion.
Questioned about statewide scores in writing, Corey said, “I definitely think that children do not tend to write. If you look at a junior taking their SATs, to write those essays by hand is a major piece for them. They don’t do it anymore. Many of their high school assignments are on the computer and emailed. At some point, texting plays a role because they’re writing cryptically and in texting, grammar doesn’t apply.”
Hendricks asked why students were not learning cursive writing after the second or third grade. “Teachers still use cursive and students still write in cursive, but there isn’t as much formal training because, again, we are migrating to a technological environment,” Corey said.