NH school officials to come to Nashua, discuss testing status

NASHUA – The state’s top two education officials will be on hand next week to meet with school board members and administrators to discuss the district’s corrective action status.

State Commissioner of Education Lyonel Tracy and Deputy Commissioner Mary Heath will be at the meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 6.

The meeting is open to the public and will start at 6:30 p.m. in the lecture hall at Nashua High School North.

Nashua is one of five districts in the state to enter into corrective action status, a result of insufficient scores on the New England Common Assessment Program, a statewide test.

The federal No Child Left Behind act requires that states intervene in some way when schools and school districts continuously fail to meet achievement benchmarks.Those benchmarks got notched up every other year in New Hampshire, ensuring that by 2014, all students will be required to be proficient in reading and math, a requirement of the federal law.

Nashua went into corrective action earlier this year, after students failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress in reading tests taken last fall. The district has been “in need of improvement” since 2004.

Even though reading scores as a whole have improved the last three years across the city, scores among special education students and English Language Learner students haven’t seen enough gains to get off the list.

Heath and other state officials have already held meetings in Concord with school district administrators to help develop a plan to comply with the corrective action requirement.

She said next week’s meeting is an opportunity to continue that discussion at the local level.

“We’re going to talk about No Child Left Behind, accountability, and what it means to be in corrective action,” Heath said.

Manchester, Rochester, Chester and Wakefield are also in corrective action.

At Monday night’s school board meeting, Superintendent Christopher Hottel handed out a draft copy of the memo of understanding between the district and the state.

Hottel said there has been back and forth dialogue about what needs to be in the document, which outlines the process for developing a corrective action plan.

No Child Left Behind outlines a specific list of options that can be chosen to comply with corrective action. Some of those options include more drastic measures such as replacing staff or the state taking over operation of schools or the entire district.

According to the draft handed out Monday night, the district and the state have agreed with the option that requires the district to implement “a new curriculum that is based on state standards, including providing appropriate professional development.”

The state would require the district to focus specifically on improving the achievement of students in the English Language Learner program and ensuring the district is in full compliance with special education laws.

At previous meetings, some school board members have expressed confusion about what corrective action means and what impact it will have on the school district.

School board President Tom Vaughan said he’s hopeful the meeting will help clarify some of those questions.

“I really think the board needs to understand what role it plays going forward,” he said.

Vaughan said he thinks there is also some confusion among the general public about what corrective action means and hopes that people with questions come to the meeting.

Some states have opted to replace staff or take over schools, but New Hampshire education officials had already said those options were unlikely.

Vaughan said the state has been playing a “positive but active role,” praising the work Nashua has done, but realizing the need to implement change.

“They’re taking this very seriously,” he said, “but I think they also realize there will be a better result by working with us.”

Corrective action is a two-year process. The district will spend this year coming up with its corrective action plan. If the district fails to make enough progress, that plan has to be implemented next year.

Students in Nashua and around the state took the latest round of tests this month, the results of which will determine whether Nashua continues to miss the mark or meets the state’s benchmarks.

Administrators focused heavily on the testing environment for students this year, making full use of the testing accommodations allowed by federal law.

At the high school level, the start of school was delayed for three days for all others so juniors could have the building to themselves as they tested.

Several schools in the district have been on the state’s “in need of improvement” list and have had to offer school choice, extra tutoring and have also had to take corrective actions.