More than half of the 11th-grade students at Nashua’s two high schools scored either substantially below proficient or partially proficient in math on the latest round of the New England Common Assessment Program, NECAP, tests taken last fall.
On Friday afternoon, the state Department of Education released the scores of math, reading and writing tests taken in grades 3 through 8, and grade 11. Nashua’s results were mixed. Some of the city’s elementary schools outperformed the state in the percentage of students who scored proficient or better, while other schools lagged behind. And some scores from the middle and high schools continued a three-year slide, widening the gap between Nashua and the rest of the state.
“This gives us a place to start talking,” said Board of Education Chairman George Farrington, who had just started sifting through the numbers. “Right now, I have a lot more questions than answers.”
Like others, Farrington stressed that one set of test scores is a snapshot, not a detailed picture, and many other factors are at play in measuring student achievement.
“For the most part, the scores indicate we have lots of room for improvement,” he said.
As a district, Nashua’s elementary school scores mirror statewide scores. In New Hampshire, 77 percent of all third-graders who took the test scored proficient in reading, while 73 percent of Nashua third-graders were either proficient, Level 3, or proficient with distinction, Level 4.
But within the district, scores varied among the 11 elementary schools. At Main Dunstable Elementary School, 88 percent of the third grade scored proficient or better in reading, while at Charlotte Ave., 80 percent of the third-graders tested were proficient or above.
However, at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School, 63 percent of the third-graders who took the test were proficient in reading, and at Ledge Street, 65 percent scored in the proficient range.In the sixth grade, 77 percent of students throughout the state were proficient in reading while 70 percent scored proficient in math.
Among Nashua’s entire sixth grade, 69 percent of the students were proficient in reading, and 60 percent were proficient in math. But again, some school scores were significantly below the district averages.
At Dr. Crisp School, 61 percent of the sixth grade scored proficient in reading, while 33 percent were proficient in math.
Among sixth-graders at Fairgrounds Elementary School, 55 percent were proficient in reading, while 35 percent were proficient in math.
The fall NECAP tests, which are developed by educators in New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and Rhode Island, are intended to measure the level of knowledge and skills students have at the beginning of the year. The scores help teachers tailor their classes to exploit the strengths and understand the needs of their students.
But for Farrington, and the Board of Education, the scores are information they can use in making decisions, particularly now as they work through next year’s school budget. Over the past several months, the board has been focusing on early education, particularly in the district’s five Title I schools, where between 60 and 80 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch.
The board has been looking at policies and strategies to ensure students in the early grades receive an adequate academic foundation that lets them succeed as they grow older.
Farrington said the NECAP scores reinforce those talks, which will continue as the board moves ahead in the budget process.
“Those early years are where we will make some headwinds,” he said.At the other end of the district, 60 percent of Nashua’s junior class scored proficient in reading, while 24 percent were proficient in math and 42 percent were proficient in writing.
Board member David Murotake, who is chairman of the Curriculum and Evaluation Committee, has long worried about students who reach high school without a working knowledge of basic math facts, and who need remedial math classes when they go on to college.
Murotake has convinced elementary school teachers to incorporate drilling math facts in their lessons but that change has taken place recently and results may not be seen for a couple of years.
The fall NECAP results are the last round of scores New Hampshire will have from the tests. The new Common Core-based Smarter Balance assessment tests are scheduled to begin in the spring of 2015, and many teachers and administrators are bracing for a significant drop in scores.
“I think we all have that concern about Smarter Balance,” said Farrington. “I think you’ll see lower scores and the middle and high schools where students will not have been through much of that curriculum.”