LACONIA – Disappointing results on the first Smarter Balanced Assessment tests have city school board members concerned.
On average, said administrators at Monday's school board meeting, Laconia School District student elementary school scores were about 20 percent lower than those of the other school districts in the state.
On a more positive note, said administrators, as students progress within the school district, their scores became more on a par with those of the rest of the state.
"The rest of the state is 46 percent proficient and we're 21 points behind that," said member Mike Persson. "How did this happen?"
Administrators told the board that this is the first time Laconia students had ever taken the Smarter Balanced tests, which are designed to measure the school district against other school districts – unlike the NEWA exams that follow a child throughout his or her schooling and measure individual progress and deficiencies.
They said the tests are in a different format and students are tested for a total of eight hours. They are also tested on inferences and critical thinking – unlike the NEWA tests that are multiple choice – and measure accumulated knowledge. Laconia students' scores on the familiar NEWA tests were on par with the state, and slightly above them once high school was reached.
"It's hard to compare apples and oranges," said Academic Coordinator for Learning and Knowledge Steve Tucker.
"But we have some things to work on," he said, noting that longer passages in the English Language Arts and more complex reasoning in the math portion are being addressed by teachers and staff already. He said that reading was a low point in this test.
Persson, member Scott Vachon and Vice Chairman Malcolm Murray were not mollified, especially when they were told that this was the first test and there was a practice test last school year.
"Then the rest of the state practiced more," said Murray. "This is really bad."
High School Principal Jim McCollum said that Laconia has three times the number of students eligible for free- and reduced-lunch federal assistance than most of the other districts while Elementary School Academic Gail Bourne said that one of the problems with the younger students was they were unfamiliar with the physical workings of the computer model – another reflections of the average poverty level of the district.
Vachon asked the administration to provide the board with statistics from other school districts, including some of the raw data, so members could better digest and analyze what happened and what to do next.
Administrators said the problems with critical thinking and applications of both math and English are already being addressed by creating their own math program and more emphasis on reading longer sentences and paragraphs. They also said there are computer carts for the elementary schools.
Superintendent Phil McCormack said "no one felt the results were acceptable."
"But we can't forget that this is one test in time," he continued.
McCormack said what the school district does moving forward is far more important that what has already happened and that the infrastructure of the school is ready to do that.
Middle School Vice Principal Eric Johnson said what is really important is curriculum.
"Kids still have to learn how read, write and do math before technology," he said.
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