LITCHFIELD — For the first time since No Child Left Behind became law in 2001, Campbell High School is grappling with its newfound status of being labeled a priority school needing to get better.
The high school was designated this past summer as a school in need of improvement by the New Hampshire Department of Education. Campbell High is classified in the lowest performing 5 percent of public schools in the state receiving Title I-A funds, which go to schools with student populations deemed in need of more federal support.
On Tuesday, Superintendent Brian Cochrane said that the designation does not mean the school’s achievement levels are in the bottom 5 percent of the state.
“Although we went down a little bit in our math scores this past year, the trend has been upward, and the progress has been good overall,” said Cochrane. “Campbell is a good school, and it is getting better.”
Because a different accountability system was used that ultimately designated Campbell High as a priority school, the Litchfield School Board previously voted unanimously to appeal the school’s status of being a school in need of improvement.
On Aug. 19, however, the state board voted 5-2 to uphold the finding with the rationale that the appeal didn’t meet the necessary criteria, said Cochrane, explaining that the local school board is trying to determine its next course of action.Campbell High School was compared to all other Title I-A schools to determine its status, meaning its math scores were compared to elementary and middle school math scores, said Cochrane. There was a significant drop-off in the local high school math scores, he said. Typically, elementary and middle schools receive higher NECAP scores in math than high schools, he said.
“It is not disingenuous, but this is how it happened,” said the superintendent, noting there was a delay in Campbell High being identified as one of 24 priority schools in New Hampshire, which did not happen in the original round.
Derek Barka, Litchfield School Board chairman, said the board was upset with the status and the stigma associated with being labeled as a priority school.
“Campbell itself is above average on many levels, so this leaves a bad taste in our mouths,” Barka said Tuesday after the school district used its alert system to inform parents about the high school’s new designation.
The process was flawed and confusing, Barka said. He said the district had limited time throughout the July 4 holiday to reject the federal funds and avoid being designated as a school in need of improvement.
“The identification as a priority school is primarily a result of the fact that statewide NECAP results are lower in high school than in elementary and middle school, and that Campbell is one of only a few high schools in the state who use federal Title I-A funds,” Cochrane said in the letter emailed to parents on Tuesday. The majority of middle and high schools in New Hampshire are omitted from the priority school selection process because their Title I funds are used at the lower grade levels, he said.
Cochrane also noted that NECAP test results show Campbell is at the state average in writing, and above the state average in science. In addition, in last year’s AP exams, on aggregate, Campbell students scored above the national average, he said.
For a school that was previously a Commissioner’s Circle of Excellence recipient and one of the first adopters of competency based learning, the new status is confusing, Cochrane said.
“The (school) board is still trying to decide if they will pursue other options, including what legal options are available, and whether the Department of Education followed its own rules,” he said.
Previously, the district opted to accept Title I money — around $15,000 — earmarked for Campbell High School. Now, the school board must again vote on whether to accept about $32,000 in new funds being distributed to schools in need of improvement, fight its designation as a priority school and/or focus its attention elsewhere, Cochrane said.
It is too early to determine whether possible legal action against the state Department of Education should be taken, said Barka, acknowledging that legal action has been discussed. He expects the board to make a decision on the $32,000 in funding next week.