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NECAP tests show mixed results

New national test coming next year

The New England Common Assessment Program test results for fall 2013 are in and show varied numbers for local schools and districts, with some improving while others lapsed.

The test evaluates reading and mathematics for students in grades three though eight and grade 11, and also writing in grade five, eight and 11. NECAP math and reading test scores were initially used to measure schools against Federal standards set by No Child Left Behind.

This is the final year for NECAP, a program to measure and track grade-level benchmarks developed by the Departments of Education in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island that has been in place for a decade. NECAP is set to be replaced by a new computerized exam, The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which students will take for the first time in the spring of the 2014-15 school year. That new test will match new national education standards.

The NECAP assessment of reading, math, and writing categorizes students into four categories: proficient with distinction, proficient, partially proficient, and substantially below proficient.

According to the recently published results for juniors at the ConVal High School, marks fell short of state standards, with 53 percent of students testing proficient in reading, 36 percent testing substantially lacking proficiency in math, and 44 percent scoring partially proficient in writing. Those numbers nearly matched the previous year’s scores.

In a phone interview regarding NECAP test results and the replacement of the test with the SBAC, ConVal School District Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Saunders said that instead of looking at a single year’s test scores, the district evaluates and makes decisions using three years of results. She said that what the ConVal school district does well is focusing in on students who are proficient and improve their scores.

Looking at the last three years of ConVal High School’s cumulative total scores, the district is 7 percent lower than the state average in reading for the proficient with distinction category, and five percent higher in the proficient category. In the cumulative totals for math, between 2011-14, ConVal’s scores only differ from state scores by two percent at most. Writing cumulative totals only differ from state numbers by one percent.

The Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District did well last fall, improving numbers from the previous year and exceeding state averages in each category of testing.

Of the juniors tested in the Cooperative School District, 42 percent scored proficient with distinction in reading, exceeding the state number by eight percent. Thirty-nine percent scored proficient in math, and 47 percent were proficient in writing.

Looking at cumulative totals for the last three test years, numbers between the state and Jaffrey-Rindge only vary by a few percent in either direction.

Mascenic juniors scored above state averages in reading with 59 percent scoring proficient against the states 43 percent. The Mascenic students tested lower than state averages in math and writing.

The Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District also scored well in reading, with 58 percent of juniors scoring proficient, 15 percent more than the state average. In math Wilton-Lyndeborough juniors scored slightly below state averages, with 38 percent scoring proficient but none testing in the proficient with distinction category. The district also scored below the state average in writing, with 36 percent of juniors testing proficient, 10 percent lower than the state average.

While the NECAP test bases its standards on expectations set by the three states, the new SBAC test will weigh progress against the Common Core State Standards, a national set of standards for K-12 created with a goal of college and career readiness.

The Common Core State Standards were developed by cooperative efforts of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers; they they were adopted by the N.H. State Board of Education in 2010.

According to Ryan Early, the Jaffrey-Rindge School District’s curriculum director, students are currently tested for curriculum they were taught the year before, so for a feedback model NECAP isn’t as accurate as it should be.

“We’ve been transitioning over the last couple of years to the Common Core State Standards,” said Early. “We’ve been piloting three math programs, preparing the school for the CCSS.”

According to Saunders, a big difference between the NECAP and SBAC tests will be the use of digital technology. The use of computers will allow the test to be adaptive, meaning questions will vary in difficulty as students answer questions correctly or incorrectly. Computerized tests will also allow educators and administrators to view results much sooner, if not immediately, instead of waiting six months or more for exams to be hand graded.

Early said that while the new SBAC test will be computerized and adaptive, it will still be one test on one day of the year. Before people get wrapped up in the media frenzy and distracted by the new test, he said, parents, educators and administrators need to keep in mind what works best for now.

The new test requires students to think, said Early, and some questions may require students to remember previous answers or information provided in the text of previous questions to find the information they need. According to Early, SBAC will do a better job of asking questions. He said that district teachers have been asked to take the SBAC so they’re aware of what students will be facing, giving teachers and edge in the classroom.

“When we look at our averages and we’re below [the state and comparable school districts] that concerns us,” said Early. “We ask what can we do better?”

Hayden James can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or at hjames@ledgertranscript.com.

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