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Importance of NECAP scores wanes as schools move toward Common Core

The latest batch of state testing data is helping educators evaluate long-term trends and progress, but the primary focus in districts across the state is now a shift away from those state tests and toward a new national testing model that will begin in 2015.

“It’s a historical picture for us now, so it has enabled us to track some progress over time,” said Christine Rath, superintendent of the Concord School District.

Results from the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests, taken annually in October, were released last week. The exams are given in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont and test students on reading, math and writing in grades 3 through 8 and 11. The exams test students on information from the previous year, which means the data are more than half a year old by the time districts get it in January.

But fall 2013 will mark the final time the NECAP tests are administered, and students will begin taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2015. That test will be computer-adaptive and align with the Common Core State Standards, new educational benchmarks drawn up by the National Governors Association and state education commissioners. The shift to the Common Core is supposed to be finalized by 2015, and New Hampshire students will take the new test for the first time that spring. The tests are expected to be more rigorous and test students on a greater depth of information.

Does the shift change the way educators are viewing and using this year’s NECAP scores? Yes and no, school administrators say. On one hand, results will have little influence on curriculum because districts are already adapting to the Common Core. On the other hand, comparing this year’s data to previous years’ is a valuable way to evaluate student improvement.

In the Concord School District, NECAP scores are just one piece of a multitude of data teachers and administrators collect throughout the year.

“This data is the grossest measure we have; it’s a snapshot once a year,” Rath said. “We’re keeping much more finer data on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.”

One of the ways Concord uses the data is by looking at aggregate growth over time as well as progress among certain groups. This year’s data shows, for example, that over the past five years, all students have gained ground in reading, and that students of a lower socioeconomic status are catching up to more privileged students in reading proficiency, Rath said.

The district recently made an aggressive push to improve literacy and is now revamping all of the math curriculum to align with Common Core. A group of teachers in the high school, for example, is working to restructure the algebra curriculum. The NECAP scores won’t affect that process in any significant way, said Donna Palley, the district’s curriculum director.

“We’re probably treating the results about the same as we did last year at this time,” she said.

Dean Cascadden, Bow School District superintendent, said increases in his students’ scores could be a reflection of movements toward Common Core the district has already made, including looking forward to the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

“I would say we’ve been kind of looking on the horizon for the last two years or so,” Cascadden said.

He said he is happy with this year’s results. Bow students have made gains across the board and are above the state averages in reading, math and writing. Cascadden normally does his own breakdown of the data, and then principals and department heads analyze it even further. But this year may be different.

“We’re probably not going to do that level of analysis on this test because we’re already looking forward to what’s coming down the road,” Cascadden said.

In Franklin, the NECAP data are being used as a mechanism to measure the effect of rigorous curriculum and instruction adjustments that have been made during the past two years. The district is in its second year of a state School Improvement Grant, which has enhanced professional development and overhauled not only what teachers are teaching but how they are teaching it.

While still significantly below state averages, the district’s test scores have grown in most areas, which is proof that changes are working, Superintendent Maureen Ward said. Teachers in Franklin began implementing Common Core curricula this year, but the NECAP scores still provide valuable data.

“This year, especially our middle and our high school scores, every single one is up, which indicates that our coaching and our revitalizing, revamping, has really worked,” she said.

Over the next several weeks, administrators in each of the districts will continue analyzing the data and sharing it with teachers, principals and other instructors. But as the transition to Common Core continues, discussions will center less on where the districts have been and focus more on where they are going.

“In terms of the Smarter Balanced, that will start a whole new baseline,” Rath said.

(Kathleen Ronayne can be reached at 369-3309 or
kronayne@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @kronayne.)

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