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School officials analyze NECAP test results.

As school district officials throughout the region review a mixed-bag of fall 2012 NECAP results, preparations are also under way to phase out the standardized test and replace it with a new systems designed to give a better picture of what students really know.

Next fall will be the last time students will take the New England Common Assessment Program test; beginning in school year 2014-15, all districts in New Hampshire will switch to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a new standardized test that will be given for the first time in the spring of 2015.

According to district officials, the new assessment will make it easier for schools to judge where New Hampshire’s students stand compared to their counterparts nationwide. The new curriculum standards on which students will be tested — known as the Common Core State Standards — will be fully implemented by districts statewide in the 2013-14 school year and are designed to better prepare students for life after graduation, said Mascenic Regional School District Interim Supt. Betsy Cox-Buteau on Monday.

“Students should be able to move from state-to-state and learn the same things; there will be more commonality,” Cox-Buteau said. “With a computerized test there will also be greater immediacy because we’ll get the results right back, rather than have to wait five months for the results before we can make any adjustments.”

The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 45 states, including New Hampshire, which will use the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to evaluate students’ reading, writing, math and science skills. The State Board of Education adopted the new standards in July 2010, after they were developed through a joint project by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

ConVal School District Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Saunders said Wednesday that the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests will be what she called “computer adaptive.”

“If students get a question right, they get a more difficult question,” she said. “If they get it wrong, they get an easier question.” The computer will automatically generate additional questions on a given topic, to confirm that the student understands the concept.

“It should give a more accurate depiction of where a student performs and what the student truly knows,” Saunders said.

The goal of Common Core State Standards is to prepare students for future success, according to Saunders.

“There was feeling that too many students were passing tests, but weren’t college or career ready,” she said. “Business people and college officials were reporting that entry-level skills were deficient. That was proving to be a problem.”

Saunders said it’s projected that by 2020, 67 percent of jobs in New Hampshire will require a career certificate or a college degree.

“Right now, it’s estimated that 46 percent of the people in the state have an associates degree or higher,” she said. “That’s a projected skills gap. If we can’t fill those jobs, businesses go somewhere else.”

While they are looking for forward to the new test that will allow them to make comparisons on a national and even international basis, educators are still closely analyzing the NECAP results.

The October NECAP exam tests students in math and reading in grades three through eight and grade 11. Students in grades five, eight and 11 also take a writing test. For nearly a decade, NECAP scores have been used to measure whether or not schools are meeting adequate yearly progress as stipulated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. If schools don’t meet increasing yearly targets, they could face sanctions; however, the state of New Hampshire has a waiver application under review by the federal government to be exempt from those sanctions.

District officials from Jaffrey-Rindge, Mascenic and ConVal who spoke with the Ledger-Transcript this week said that for the most part they were encouraged by the fall 2012 test results, but also noted areas in need of improvement.

In the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, 78 percent of students demonstrated proficiency with distinction or proficiency on the NECAP reading test, while 70 percent of students had similar scores in math. On the writing exam, 51 percent of students demonstrated proficiency.

Jaffrey-Rindge Supt. Jim O’Neill said overall the results are good news for the district, which closely monitors five-year trend lines that indicate how the district is fairing. “I think the district is going in the right direction,” O’Neill said. “What we’ve really focused on in the last three years has been our language arts curriculum and making changes to that. In the next two years, we’ll be taking a closer look at our math curriculum.”

One area of concern at this time, O’Neill said, is eight grade math scores, which are a reflection of what students learned in grade seven and prior. The percentage of Jaffrey-Rindge students who are proficient in math, according to NECAP test results, has fluctuated in the past few years. In 2010, 69 percent of students demonstrated proficiency, but in 2012, 10 percent fewer students achieved that same level.

“We recognize that [NECAP tests] are but a single assessment; however, they are a significant measure of student outcomes and it is important that you try to increase those percentages on an annual basis,” O’Neill said.

In the Mascenic Regional School District, Cox-Buteau said school officials are still in the process of analyzing the NECAP results, but added that scores have shown steady signs of improvement over the years.

“Students only take the test once a year, so it is a slow and gradual process of tweaking and realigning the curriculum where necessary,” she said.

Mascenic students scored better than those in Jaffrey-Rindge on reading and writing, but in math 9 percent fewer students achieved proficiency at 61 percent. More than 80 percent of students are proficient in reading, while 66 percent of students demonstrated proficiency in writing.

Saunders said ConVal administrators and teachers are working to address a dip in elementary school reading results. The fall 2011 results showed 91 percent of fourth-graders who took the tests were at proficient or proficient with distinction levels. The fall 2012 number was 74 percent.

“Looking at elementary schools individually is difficult, because of the small numbers of students in some of the schools,” she said.

At the middle school levels, math numbers for ConVal showed a slight upward trend. At ConVal High School, 37 percent of this year’s 11th graders tested proficient or better, compared to 39 percent last year.

“We remain concerned about high school math, as does most of the state,” Saunders said.”We have just adopted a new high school math program this fall. We need to give teachers and students time to implement it.”

Don LaPlante, superintendent of the Wilton-Lyndeborough School District said his review of the NECAP results showed little movement upward or downward.

“At the high school level, our test scores were less than stellar,” he said. “We’re working on a plan to address that.”

LaPlante said the district is working on developing curriculum consistency, especially in math, so students from the two elementary schools in Lyndeborough and Wilton have similar skills when they get to the middle school level. LaPlante also noted that each year, the NECAP tests are given to a different group of students, so it’s difficult to compare results year to year.

LaPlante said the district probably won’t put a lot of effort into addressing issues with the NECAP scores, since the test is being phased out.

“Basically, we’re focusing our efforts on developing the common core standards,” he said. “There’s a lot of curriculum work that needs to be done over the next few years.”

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea. Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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