Worry over tests - Laconia students’ scores drop below state average

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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Comedy night, Lakes Region style

MEREDITH — There may be a lot of laughing, but it's no joke – comedy has taken a hold in the Lakes Region. Pitman's Freight Room in Laconia had its first stand-up comedy three years ago, and now has at least one comedy performance per month. This month, a venue in Meredith will seek to tap into the local market for comedy, when Church Landing hosts Jim Colliton on Nov. 28.

Michelle Brown, marketing production manager at Mill Falls on the Lake, said the Church Landing ballroom has hosted comedy before as fundraisers for local organizations, which were well received. This time, though, the hospitality company is hosting a comic to try to encourage guests who have booked a room for Thanksgiving to extend their stay through the weekend. Tickets for the show cost $25, or $15 for those who have an overnight reservation for one of the Mill Falls properties. The room has a capacity of about 220, and Brown said half of those tickets have already been spoken for. Those who wish to buy tickets may do so at the Meredith Mobil station or at the Church Landing front desk. Remaining tickets will also be available at the door.

"We're doing it to push overnight rooms. Opening it up to the public is the icing on the cake," said Brown.

Colliton, who tours nationally and has appeared on Comedy Central, has built his reputation on being funny as well as clean, basing his humor on his experience as a suburban father and husband.

"I think it will be a good show," said Brown, adding that she expects to host more comedians to draw guests during the off seasons.

Mill Falls is following in the footsteps of Pitman's Freight Room, which recently celebrated its third year of comedy nights. Dick Mitchell, who owns Pitman's, had repurposed the track-side building, originally constructed to hold railroad freight, from an antique store to a performance venue, when he was contacted by Mike Smith of Laugh Riot Productions. Smith, who books Boston and New York based comics for gigs in New Hampshire, said he had heard from musicians about the venue.

Smith said he is always looking for a "new room" to book, and he was especially intrigued by what he had heard about Pitman's. It's a relatively intimate space, where the performer is in close proximity to nearly every audience member.

"After three years, we've established a great clientele, the comedians are all high-level," said Smith, and the Pitman's usual practice of keeping ticket prices low and allowing guests to bring their own beverages makes for an affordable night out.

Mitchell said the comedy nights have turned into reliable successes for the small venue. The first show sold 86 tickets, and they have since been averaging about 150 tickets each month. Booking a good music act can be a challenge. Even the best jazz group will fail to draw folk fans, and vice versa.

"The music is kind of genre-specific. Everybody comes out for comedy," he said.

Pitman's will also host a comedy show on Nov. 28, when local comedy veteran Bucky Lewis takes the stage. Tickets for that show will be $15.

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Screening committee for school super’t named

LACONIA — School Board members have named the following people to be on the Screening Committee for the Laconia School District superintendent's search: Joe Cormier; city resident and former School Board chairman; andStacie Sirois and Scott Vachon, who are both School Board members. Sirois and Vachon will serve as committee co-chairs.
Also serving are school district Business Administrator Ed Emond; Geoff Gray, a parent; Kim O'Neill, an educational assistant; Jen O'Reilly, who is a parent and a member of the district staff; and Jennifer Sottak, a student services coordinator.
Joining them are staff member and parent Regina Theberge, School District Academic Coordinator for Teaching and Learning Steve Tucker, and Police Chief Chris Adams.
According to the school district website, the screenings are scheduled to begin on Nov. 30 and last through Dec. 3. Recommendations are due to the School Board on Dec. 7.
The school district is looking to replace former Superintendent Terri Forsten, who is now the superintendent in the Concord School District. In the interim, the district hired retired Inter Lakes Superintendent Phil McCormack to administratively head the district.
The information has been posted on the website, said newly elected School Board Chairman Stacie Sirois, for about a week. The board discussed it last night when former teacher Richard Coggon asked them why the list hadn't appeared in a local news paper.



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