Plan clears decks while juniors test

NASHUA – In an effort to boost standardized test scores, administrators are considering a plan that would give high school juniors the entire buildings to themselves when testing gets under way next month.

The proposal, which is still being worked out, would have juniors coming in at the normally scheduled starting time of 7:20 a.m. for the three days when New England Common Assessment Program testing is scheduled for the high schools.

Testing will be done at the high schools sometime during the week of Oct. 13-17, and juniors would take the tests during those mornings.

For those three days, all other students would be permitted to come to school approximately two hours later, around 9 a.m.

The district would run the bus routes twice in the morning to accommodate all students, and accommodations would be made for special-education students to be transported at the normal time, if necessary.

Once the school day started around 9 a.m., the day would run until the normal time, 2:03 p.m.

Superintendent Christopher Hottel said staff at the high schools has been looking at ways to improve the testing environment for students. Last year, there was an attempt to limit testing to one wing of the buildings, he said.

“This would be the least disruptive, having the building alone for 11th graders,” he said.

Under NECAP, juniors are the only high school students tested. The federal No Child Left Behind act requires that students in grades 3 through 8 and one high school grade be tested annually in math and reading.

The testing window for this year’s round of assessments is Oct. 1-23. Schools and districts can administer the tests at any point during that time frame.

School board members were briefed about the proposal at Monday night’s school board meeting. Board member Robert Hallowell had concerns about the disruption this might have to the other students.

If the district does change the schedule, notification is critical, he said.

“So that everybody knows that their kids are going to be home an extra two hours in the morning,” he said.

Brian Cochrane, the district’s director of assessment and accountability, said the dates for testing at the high schools haven’t been finalized and the plan is still “under discussion.”

Essentially the proposal would mean a delayed opening for freshmen, sophomore and seniors for three days next month.

When asked whether juniors may feel miffed at still having to come school early, Cochrane said the hope is that they see the big picture and look ahead to next year.

“As a senior, they would have a shortened day,” he said.

Once a decision is made, the district would notify parents using communication tools like the ParentLink system and the weekly electronic newsletter sent out by the district, he said.

Yet to be decided is whether students would still attend all of their classes for those three days as they would under a regular delayed-opening schedule, he said.

Members of the student senates at South and North were to be asked their thoughts on the plan today, Cochrane said.

Unlike some states, students are not required to pass the test to graduate. Cochrane said that has an impact on whether students take the test seriously.

“The validity rests rather tenuously on students’ motivation,” he said.

Providing as much accommodation as possible can help improve scores, he said.

Both of the city’s high schools have been labeled as “in need of improvement.” Schools are required to have students meet annual benchmarks in math and reading.

Schools are deemed to have not made adequate progress if students miss those benchmarks, either as a whole school, or in a particular subgroup, such as special education, low-income or Limited English Proficiency.

Those benchmarks are increased every other year so by 2014, all students are required to be proficient in math and reading, a requirement of NCLB.