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School board members concerned with format of state's new standardized test program

LACONIA — Members of the School Board got a look at a sample of what the new standardized Smarter Balanced assessment tests that students will be taking for the first time in the spring of 2015 are like on Tuesday night and were shocked and concerned by what they saw.
The tests will do away with pencil and paper and utilize computer adaptive technology according to Kirk Beitler, assistant superintendent, who told the board that the test will replace the NECAP for math and English and is still being developed.
He explained that computer adaptive testing adjusts to a student's ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers, providing more accurate measurement of student achievement, particularly for high and low-performing students.
''The questions get harder as they go along,'' said Beitler, who said that grades 3-8 and grade 11 in Laconia took part in a field test of the new assessment program this spring but that no scores have been made available to assess how well the students performed on those tests.
A sample of what a fourth grade math test will entail was displayed Tuesday night for the board members, whose immediate reaction was one of befuddlement, as they contemplated the different problem solving skills which students will need to have in order to take the test and how difficult the program interface appeared to be.
Mike Persson said that he would need a pencil and paper to make the math calculations needed and didn't see any calculating tool or notepad within the test program which students could use.
''It's clunky, like a 10-year-old type of display. It's not how a good interface works,'' added board member Scott Vachon, who questioned whether the students would have the time needed to complete the tests.

Beitler said students would have as much time as needed to complete the tests, which would be given over several days.
''Has the state (school) board taken these tests? What are their reactions?'' asked Mal Murray, who said that in order for students to perform well on the tests their classroom lessons will have to be tailored to the same format used on the tests and that students will need a lot of practice in order to understand how to complete the tests.
Beitler said that the tests have proven more difficult than expected according to many educators, some of whom say it will take several years for students to adapt to the tests.
Persson asked what the School District would be doing with its science testing, noting that NECAP is still being used, and was critical of the most recent results for local students.
''Only 3 percent of our kids were proficient with distinction in science. That's five out of 150 students at the grade 11 level. That tells us we're not doing something right,'' said Persson.
Board Chairman Joe Cormier said that improving science test performance is ''not a quick process but we're moving in the right direction.''
Vachon said the district needed higher standards, as does the whole country, when it comes to science.
''If we're going to compete globally we've got to get better in science. We're not going to be a creative economy and will go from leading to trailing as an economic power. Our economy is changing because we're not keeping up,'' added Vachon.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2014 01:28

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Belknap commissioners want county attorney to represent them in action aimed at lawmakers seen as acting in 'bad faith'

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners will ask Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen to intervene on their behalf in a court case which limits their authority to transfer funds without the approval of the Belknap County Convention's Executive Committee.
The action came Wednesday afternoon following on the heels of Monday night's rejection by the committee of a $28,000 transfer request which would have allowed the county to pay $24,000 it has in unpaid legal bills.
Commissioners said the result of the committee's action is that the commission can no longer manage the business of the county, which violates the terms of a temporary injunction obtained by the county convention prohibiting the transfer of more than $300 between accounts without approval of the committee.
''The judge's ruling said that the committee would in good faith approve the transfers. But this transfer was denied because they don't like what the commission is doing,'' said county Administrator Debra Shackett.
Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia), who did not seek re-election and will be stepping down on January 2, said, ''They are essentially through their actions denying the commissioners the ability to conduct the business of the county, which is within our statutory authority. We're still here and still charged with managing the county and we have to do that in a way which meets the responsibilities we have.''
He said that the commissioners have incurred legitimate expenses in several legal matters, which include defending the commission in the lawsuit brought by the convention as well as seeking to overturn the county Personnel Committee's reinstatement of Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue after he had been fired by the commissioners in late August.
Shackett said that ever since Monday night's decision she has not spoken to the attorneys hired by the commission for fear of incurring further legal fees.
"How can we petition the court without a lawyer?'' she asked and commissioners agreed that the only alternative remaining to the commission is to be represented by the county attorney in its appeal to the court.
Philpot pointed out that the firms which have billed the county for their services are not going to just walk away and will press to have the bills paid, which prompted Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) to say that ultimately the county will have to pay it's legal bills.
Among those who voted to deny the request for the transfer of funds was Rep. Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton), who defeated incumbent commissioner John Thomas (R-Belmont) in the Republican primary in September .
At Monday night's Executive Committee meeting, Rep. Burchell told the commissioners ''you continue to throw away money on a issue that will go away on January 2'', referring to a statement that he and fellow incoming commissioner Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) issued recently saying that they plan to drop an appeal commissioners are planning to make to the state Supreme Court of the Personnel Committee's reinstatement of Logue as head of the nursing home.
At that meeting Nedeau said that Burchell may not be able to cast a vote on that issue, maintaining that there may be a conflict of interest as Burchell serves as a member of the Personnel Committee and voted to reinstate Logue. Burchell maintains that he has no conflict of interest, citing state law, and that he intends to vote to drop the appeal.
During yesterday afternoon's meeting, Nedeau told Philpot, who was not at Monday night's meeting, that ''it was amazing to sit there and listen to our next commissioner basically swear at me.''
Philpot observed about Burchell, ''that's happened more than once. That's despicable, thuggish behavior. He's been on the delegation for two years now and has never said a word to me.''
Philpot said it was obvious that Burchell and other members of the county convention were intent ''on the disassembly of everything we (the current commissioners and administration) have worked so very hard for.''

Commissioner Thomas said that there are ''many people filled with hate and discontent. And we have nine of them right here in our county delegation.''

Shackett observed yesterday that during the Monday night meeting she had been accused of lying for the second time in two weeks by outgoing Belknap County Convention chairperson Colette Worsman (R-Meredith).
Worsman charged at Monday's meeting of the county's Executive Committee that Belknap County Commissioners spent $174,000 more than the $2.6 million which was appropriated by convention for health insurance costs for 2014.
''That's not true. We didn't spend any more money than was appropriated,'' Shackett replied.
Worsman said she based her calculations on the monthly bills paid by then county of about $230,000, which dropped to $73,800 during one month in which the county's bill was reduced by a $159,000 credit.
Worsman said that the credit should have gone to the county as revenue and maintained that the commissioners did not have the authority to spend the money without convention approval, a position which was supported by Rep. Burchell and Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith), who said the money should have been returned to the taxpayers.
Shackett said that she had followed the advice of the county's auditing firm on how to handle the credit as well as that of the Local Government Center. County Finance Director Glen Waring observed that Worsman's numbers were faulty, as the monthly payments also reflected the employee share of health insurance costs.
Worsman persisted however, saying ''you're not being truthful'' to Shackett and later saying ''the $174,000 spent is a violation and individuals should be held accountable.''
Rep, Davis Huot (D-Laconia) defended Shackett, saying ''it's not fair to accuse people of not telling the truth.''
Rep, Frank Tilton (R-Laconia), chairman of the Executive Committee, sought to rein in the discussion, saying ''the committee is beyond the purview of what we need to do'' and after allowing a few more comments said ''let's put this one to rest.''

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2014 01:15

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City's busy brush dump will remain open through Saturday

LACONIA — The city brush dump on Hilliard Road at the Weirs, which was empty before the storm on the eve of Thanksgiving Day, was filled yesterday with the limbs and branches felled by the heavy, wet snow and by noon was aflame.

John Neal, general foreman at the Department of Public Works (DPW), said that the brush dump will remain open to residents on both Friday and Saturday this week, from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. The dump closed for the winter in early November but reopening for a few days to help people deal with storm damage. Neal said the added Saturday hours would provide those unable to take time away from work on weekdays an opportunity to dispose debris from the storm.

At the dump yesterday, DPW worker Tony Linkkila, who had not been home since the day before, said that empty space has filled up quickly. Within the circular road around the dump, he said that the pile of fallen limbs had grown large enough to require burning and was ringed by more brush to be consigned to the flames. "Usually we don't burn until after Christmas when we've picked up the trees," he said.

Apart from residents bringing debris to the dump, Neal said that three crews have been working since Friday to clean up after the storm. "Everybody has been hard at it," he remarked, confessing that he had lost track of what day of the week it was.

At midday Mike Kelly set the pile alight. He doused a patch of pine and pallets with diesel fuel and with a wand called a "rosebud" attached to a propane tank lit the fire. Linkkila said that it had been raining on the brush since 1 a.m. and was not surprised the fire was slow to spread. Neal expected the fire to burn around the clock through the week.

This week the DPW has waived all restrictions on size and will accept all limbs and branches regardless of their length and diameter.

To reach the brush dump turn go to the roundabout at the Weirs, turn north on Endicott Street (Rte. 3), and past the Meredith Bridge Condominiums turn left on to Hillard Road. The dump is one mile down the road on the right.

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 December 2014 01:07

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Increase in stipends paid to coaches & advisers will be only special article on Gilford school warrant in 2015

GILFORD — The School Board unanimously voted Monday night to move $11,545 for increases in stipends to athletic coaches and after-school advisers from the operating budget to a separate warrant article.

The stipend increases were included for the proposed 2015-2016 budget because they are called for in the union contract negotiated and approved by voters earlier this year. But they were not a cost item in the 2014-2015 budget because negotiators agreed the increases would not take effect until the second year of a three-year contract.

Superintendent Kent Hemingway said that because the stipend increases of $11,545 have an impact on the new budget, they must be presented as a separate warrant article.

For the current school year, Hemingway said the stipends paid are the same as the year before. Should the warrant article pass, the stipends will not go up again in 2016-2017, which is the last year of the current contract with the Gilford Education Association.

The warrant article for the stipend increases is the only warrant article Gilford voters will act on this year. Because of upward financial pressure from health insurance costs and mandatory employer contributions to the N.H. State Retirement System, the district administrators and School Board members decided not to include any major capital projects in the proposed budget.

The proposed budget of $25,430,087 now moves on to the Gilford Budget Committee for consideration

The School Board approved a default budget last night of $25,394,241. Should the voters reject the budget put forward by the Budget Committee, the default budget will become law under the rules put forward by SB-2, the Official Budget Act.

In other School Board action, the board approved a fund-raising letter that was drafted by the Meadow Athletic/Academic Complex fundraising team.

The letter will be sent to businesses in the towns of Gilford and Belmont, which joined forces with Gilford Football for the first time this year, in the hopes of carrying on the Carye Foundation's goals for the land.

With Phase I, which includes an all-purpose and professionally designed playing field for the northwest corner of the land, the 2016 goal is to raise money for concession stands, restrooms and other amenities.

The School Board noted that any gifts or in-kind donations are tax free.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 December 2014 12:19

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