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Wakefield students miss math and reading targets

But it's unclear if the Paul School will make AYP

February 25, 2010
WAKEFIELD — School officials seemed disappointed with Paul School's raw scores on the New England Common Assessment Program test (NECAP). However, it's too early to say that the school failed to meet the state's definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP).

Paul School needs to make AYP again this year to get off the state's list of "schools in need of improvement." Schools in need of improvement must meet AYP two years in a row to get off that list. Paul School made AYP last year, but if it fails to make AYP this year, it will have to spend another year in restructuring. That would mean officials would have to come up with a plan to improve the parts of the educational program that need fixing, said Curriculum Coordinator Linda Stimson.

Last week, school officials discussed how students performed in math and reading. In 2009, students failed to make the state's performance targets called the Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO), which are the percentages of students who must be proficient or better in those subjects in a given year. The students are tested in October.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind program, the percentage of students expected to be proficient is supposed to increase every two years (2010 being such a year) until all students are expected to be proficient in the years 2013 and 2014.

"That's why you hear people saying they keep moving the bar," said Stimson. "It's because we've got to get to 100 percent."

In reading, the AMO was to have 91 percent of students in each grade score at least proficient. Here is how they actually performed: third grade, 78 percent; fourth grade, 67 percent; fifth grade, 70 percent; sixth grade, 66 percent; seventh grade, 74 percent; and eighth grade 45 percent. All the grade's percentages were below the state average, but the third and seventh grades were close behind it.

In math, the AMO was to have 88 percent of students in each grade score at least proficient. But the results were: third grade, 83 percent; fourth grade, 77 percent; fifth grade, 61 percent; sixth grade 67; seventh grade 66 percent; and eighth grade, 53 percent.

In math, the third graders beat the state average by about 10 percentage points, the seventh graders tied it, and other grades scored below the state average, according to a bar graph from Stimson.

It's too early to say if the school made AYP because the formula is so complicated. The state will release those results in late March. Even though the school didn't hit its AMOs it can still make AYP if various demographics within the student body make enough progress, said Stimson. AYP is determined by looking at how each grade and demographic does year to year. For example, the third grade class of 2008 is compared with the third grade class of 2009 — obviously, a different set of children.

Especially troubling to school board members Bonnie Cyr and Peter Kasprzyk was a chart Stimson provided that shows how the current class of eighth grade students did in math over the past four years as compared to the state average.

"Our students aren't doing well," said Cyr. "These children are not achieving success."

Kasprzyk added, "We're going in the wrong direction… "We're lagging"

The line graph shows, the 2009 class of eighth graders improved in math as they progressed from fifth grade (in 2006) to seventh grade (in 2008). The percentage of those who were proficient in math or better rose from 50 percent in 2006 to about 65 percent in 2008. Then when they reached the eighth grade in 2009, the percentage crashes to below 55 percent. In contrast, the state average hovered between 65 and 70 percent for the last three years.

The current eighth graders also appeared to struggle in reading — 45 percent of them scored at least proficient in 2009. When that class was in the seventh grade about 80 percent scored at least proficient.

Other cohorts of students had significant drops in reading scores as well: the third grade class of 2008 dropped about 15 percentage points when they got to fourth grade in 2009. The fifth grade class of 2008 dropped about 10 percentage points when they got to the sixth grade.

In 2008, each grade had a greater percentage of students reading at a proficient level or above than the grades of 2009. In 2008, most grades' proficiency percentages were between just over 70 percent to just above 80 percent. Notably, a bar chart shows the difference between 2008's fourth grade class and last year's appears to be about 15 percentage points.

Last year in math, grades four, five, six, and eight did worse than the classes that preceded them: In 2008: the fourth grade was about 85 percent proficient or better; the fifth grade was about 75 percent proficient or better; the sixth grade was 70 percent proficient or better, and the eighth grade was nearly 60 percent proficient or better.

But the third grade class of 2009 scored better than the third grade class of 2008. In 2008, nearly 80 percent scored at least proficient and last year the percentage rose into the mid eighties. The percentages for the seventh grades that were considered proficient or better in 2008 and 2009 remained flat. In both years, about 65 percent of students were proficient.

But on the positive side, the school did a lot of work over the summer to boost math and reading scores. For example, the school district hired coaches to help students in both subjects. In addition, nationally known educator, Mahesh Sharma, was bought in to help train math teachers. The school district also became involved in a program called New Hampshire Reads, said Stimson.

"I'm hoping we will see improvement next year when the teachers will have a whole year to put in practice their training," said Stimson. "You can't see the results this soon."

With a few exceptions, the students in each grade in 2009 did better on the tests than the students in each grade in 2006, the bar charts indicate.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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