June 09. 2014 9:56PM

Nashua looks at steady decline in test scores

Union Leader Correspondent

For the past five years, Nashua’s scores on the New England Common Assessment Program tests have been lagging behind state averages, and the gap has been widening.

Assistant Superintendent Jen Seusing presented a summary of test score data to the Board of Education that showed Nashua students at all levels slipping. Last year, 50 percent of eighth-grade students scored proficient in math, while 24 percent of 11th-grade students scored proficient or proficient with distinction.

In comparison, 64 percent of all New Hampshire eighth-graders scored proficient while 36 percent of 11th-graders throughout the state scored proficient.

“Obviously we have concerns about these results,” said Superintendent Mark Conrad. “We wanted to let you know what we are doing.”

According to Seusing, teachers and administrators are digging deeper into the data to try and pinpoint where and when students begin to lose ground.

For elementary and middle school students, Seusing presented test scores starting back in 2005, when the percent of Nashua students with the highest scores was consistently several points higher than state percentages in math, reading and writing.

“I noticed something happened in 2006,” said Board of Education member Elizabeth Van Twuyver. “Do we know what that was?”

Conrad said a loss of curriculum specialists and changes in curriculum may be behind some of the lost ground.

Board of Education member Dotty Oden suggested that the steady decline may have been linked to the decline in the economy .

“We saw a lot of kids coming in stressed, and a lot more kids in transition,” said Oden, a former first grade teacher at Amherst Elementary School.

Still, Nashua continued a slow and steady decline even after the economy began to recover.

Seusing also presented a list of action steps for all grades, such as infusing more math throughout all subjects, and teaching math for longer amounts of time.

In reading, 60 percent of Nashua’s 11th-graders were proficient while 77 percent of high school juniors across the state were proficient. The administration presented a similar set of action steps, such as adding more reading specialists to the staff, to improve those scores. “Sometimes it takes time to see improvements if you are having curriculum changes,” said Seusing. “We are constantly going back to the drawing board to see what’s causing these results.”