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Teachers to choose sixth-grade levels in Nashua

NASHUA - Next year, sixth graders at Nashua's middle schools will be placed into levels by their new teachers, a decision that was previously out of their hands.

Sixth grade teachers "felt in the end there would be more appropriate initial placements for students," said Superintendent Mark Conrad.

Prior to the change, students were placed in one of three levels - foundations, extensions, or honors - based on the recommendation of fifth grade teachers prior to the new school year. Now teachers have a month to determine what level sixth graders will be placed in.

"Essentially grade five teachers were placing the students, but a lot of growth and change can happen over the time from the end of one year to the beginning of the next," Conrad said. "Grade six teachers know their curriculums best, and the expectations they have of the different levels."

Two years ago the district held a middle school institute over the summer. A concern that arose was the desire to improve the transition process for students entering the sixth grade.

"That discussion really moved pretty quickly to the desire of sixth grade teachers to be able to establish those groupings for their students," Conrad said.

During student orientation in early June, students can connect with their teaching team.

The four-teacher teams - which consist of a reading, science, social studies and math teacher - direct about 100 students across all three proficiency levels. Teams are meant to include multiple levels of student proficiencies, allowing students to shift between levels within the team.

Conrad said the focus is now centered on what needs to be done to increase proficiency, thus allowing students to take higher level classes.

Fifth grade teachers will no longer recommend levels but will still have critical input on whether students are on, above, or below grade level in reading and math.

During the placement process, sixth grade teachers are able to examine test results such as NECAP and the online monitoring tool i-Ready, which identifies proficiency levels based on Common Core Standards.

"It's really about being more thoughtful in the process before they establish a level for a student," Conrad said.

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