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BHS marked improvement gains national recognition


November 24, 2009
BERLIN — Berlin High School was recently cited by an industry newsletter for their improvements in test scores and education outcomes.

The improvements are the result of a framework developed at the University of New Hampshire.

Berlin High led the state with their improvement in math standardized test scores and came in fourth for their improvement in reading. Those rankings are out of about 80 schools.

The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network profiled BHS because of the improvements in their most recent newsletter. In addition to the test score improvements, the dropout rate at BHS dropped by three percent and many discipline problems have been solved.

Berlin High was listed as a school in need of improvement for the last three years. The changes have brought standardized test scores up to the state average.

BHS Principal Gary Bisson credited creating a positive atmosphere for students through a system called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, developed by the University of New Hampshire, for the school's improvement. The system makes small changes in the way students interact with the school for big gains.

"Number one in improvement in Math score," he said, "number four in improvement in reading score. If we create a positive climate in school kids will do better."

Teachers modeled good test-taking behavior, he said, and provided a free breakfast the mornings of the tests. They rewarded students who showed up on time to every test by entering them in a raffle, and they sent letters home to parents explaining the importance of the tests. They tested students when no one else was at school to minimize distractions.

As a result of the improvements the students were rewarded with a barbecue and a field day.

The improvements, Mr. Bisson said, were really more about getting the students involved in the tests and taking them seriously. They didn't need to learn new things, he said, they just needed to be engaged.

"Don't expect kids to do something correctly without telling them why and how," he said.

But by telling them why and how, BHS was able to make improvements other schools are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to replicate, he said.

"We basically were able to do it on $4,000," he said.

Now the school is getting calls asking how they did it, and BHS teachers are giving talks statewide and nationally to explain the steps.

Mr. Bisson said these early steps have resulted in more than just better grades. In addition to a 21 percent increase in math scores and a 26 percent increase in reading scores, disciplinary problems are down as well.

Overall, he said, the UNH PBIS system has had a dramatic effect on students and the school. The National Dropout Prevention Center/Network seems to agree.

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