11 city schools miss testing benchmarks

NASHUA – City schools are making progress, just not enough of it.

Eleven city schools, including both high schools, failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress on state tests, according to data released by the state Department of Education. But administrators said more students are testing well in reading and math each year, just not enough to satisfy federal benchmarks.

“We’re getting better,” said Brian Cochrane, Nashua’s director of accountability and assessment. “We’re not getting better as fast as No Child Left Behind would like and, quite frankly, not as fast as we would like.”

Some schools in the Amherst, Hudson, Litchfield and Merrimack districts also failed to make AYP.

The Brookline School District became a district in need of improvement for math by failing to make AYP for two years in a row. The Hudson School District exited in-need-of-improvement status by making AYP in reading for two consecutive years, according to state data, even though it failed to make AYP in math this year.

Based on their entire student population, all city schools made AYP overall. But Cochrane said since some sub-groups – such as special education students, black or Hispanic students – at each of the 11 schools didn’t make it, the entire schools are slapped with the did not make AYP label. The same thing happened for the Nashua district as a whole.

“The schools as a whole may make AYP, and the district may reach AYP but there are sub-groups,” explained Ed Hendry, Nashua’s associate superintendent.

The data is based on the results of the New England Common Assessment Program that students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 take each fall, according to Nashua Superintendent Christopher Hottel.

The federal law requires all students test proficient by 2014, and schools must hit increasing benchmarks each year leading to that 100 percent goal, Cochrane said. If they don’t, they fail to make AYP.

“The requirements of No Child Left Behind set a high bar in terms of the rate of improvement,” he said. “We haven’t been able to match the rate of improvement, but we are still improving.”

Hendry said No Child Left Behind standards are good because they have forced schools to concentrate on sub-sections of students that may have previously flown under the radar. But, he said, parents shouldn’t think their school is failing all students because it’s listed as needing improvement.

“The AYP is based upon one single measure. It doesn’t give the total picture of where the student is,” Hendry said. “It doesn’t give the total picture of where the school is. It’s another bit of information. (Parents) shouldn’t look at it as the only barometer of success for the school, but it’s another piece of data.”

Deb Wiswell, the Department of Education’s administrator for accountability, agreed.

“We like to say, ‘Let’s look at what’s actually happening in the school,'” she said, “because the label is the label is the label.”

Some Nashua schools provided bright spots in the data. Mount Pleasant Elementary School made AYP for the second year in a row, which removed it from the school in need of improvement list.

The school had been on the list for long enough that it was facing serious sanctions and was working on a restructuring plan, Cochrane said. Since the school made AYP this year, the plan won’t have to be implemented.

Hottel also highlighted gains being made in most sub-groups, particularly in reading.

Cochrane said the district is working on two initiatives that will improve its performance tracking of minorities and other student sub-groups and establish new ways to intervene with those groups and individuals to improve learning and test performance.

Meanwhile, the Nashua School District is still a district in need of improvement and is working on a corrective action plan that will be implemented next year.

Statewide, more schools and district failed to make AYP than those that made it. Of 477 AYP reports released Monday, 205 schools made AYP in all areas compared to 253 that didn’t, according to a Department of Education press release.

That includes 12 schools that came off the needs improvement list this year by making AYP two consecutive years. The only local school on that list is Thorntons Ferry Elementary School in Merrimack.

Further, 80 districts made AYP compared to 81 that did not, according to the release. Another 24 districts are now considered in need of improvement, bringing the total to 54, according to the release.

But five districts made AYP for the second year and are no longer considered in need of improvement. They include Hudson, Merrimack, Newport, Northwood and Start school districts, according to the release.

Adequate yearly progress in state testing

Granite State students in grades 3-8 and 11 take the New England Common Assessment Program test each fall. Those results are used to determine whether schools, and districts, are making Adequate Yearly Progress under the federal No Child Left Behind. If a school or district as a whole fails to make AYP in reading or math for two consecutive years, it is then labeled “in need of improvement.” Schools and districts can drop this label by meeting AYP for two consecutive years.

District School AYP Reading AYP Math In Need of Improvement
Amherst Harold H. Wilkins School Yes No Math
Hudson Library Street School No No Reading and math
Dr. H.O. Smith Yes No Reading
Hills Garrison Elementary Yes No Reading
Hudson Memorial Middle School No No Reading and math
Alvirne High School Yes No Reading and math
Litchfield Griffin Memorial School No No Reading and math
Litchfield Middle School Yes Yes Reading
Merrimack Merrimack Middle School Yes Yes Reading and math
Mastricola Upper Elementary No No Reading and math
Merrimack High School No No Reading and math
Nashua Dr. Norman Crip School Yes Yes Reading
Fairgrounds Elementary No No Reading and math
Ledge Street Elementary No No Reading and math
Mt. Pleasant Elementary Yes No Reading and math
New Searles School No No Reading and math
Sunset Heights School No Yes Reading
Elm Street Middle School No No Reading and math
Fairgrounds Middle School No No Reading and math
Pennichuck Middle School No Yes Reading and math
Nashua HS South No No Reading and math
Nashua HS North No No Reading and math

Full data on the state’s Adequate Yearly Progress is available at the state Department
of Education’s Web site at www.ed.state.nh.us/education.