2014-02-28 / Front Page

NECAP Reading Scores Show Promise

By Meg O'Neil

Newport public school students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 achieved a strong eight percent increase from 2009 to 2013 in reading proficiency in NECAP (New England Common Assessment Program) tests given last fall. This was one of the highest increases in the state.

According to Jennifer Booth, director of teaching, learning and professional development, the scores showed consistent increases in the percentage of students who were deemed “proficient” in writing across the district. Fifth graders scored the highest with 71 percent proficient. Grade 8 students were 66 percent proficient and grade 11 students were 58 percent proficient.

These most recent NECAP results were the topic of a special workshop that included teachers, administrators and the Newport School Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 26.

Students at Thompson Middle School also showed a statistically significant increase during the same period, increasing student proficiency by 16 percent in reading and 11 percent in math - both of which exceed the state average.

Booth explained that while writing has been a major focus in classrooms across all subject areas for the last few years, the same cannot be said for math - and that is reflected in the scores.

"We're kind of flat when it comes to math," Booth said. "Reading has clearly shown more success with increasing scores."

This year, elementary students in 3rd through 8th grades showed 48-58 percent proficiency, hovering near the state average of 56 percent.

But by the time students in Newport reach 11th grade, the math scores tend to plummet by half, this year falling to 25 percent of students showing proficiency.

High school students only take the NECAP test at the beginning of 11th grade and are tested on multiple mathematical disciplines, but some students lag behind in math and are tested on material they have not been exposed to.

Additionally, as Booth explained, the same emphasis that has been placed on writing has not been implemented in math.

"Across the district, students don't explain their math work on the NECAP assessment and lose points," she said. "Just as we did with the writing, we need to teach them how to do constructive responses in math and reinforce the skills they need.”

Superintendent Colleen Jermain explained that in some middle schools across the state, four years’ worth of math are taught in three years as a way to "ramp up the basic strengths" of students before they arrive at the high school, suggesting it's something she might like to see happen at Thompson.

Thompson principal Jaime Crowley said he would be fully supportive of doing more math at the school. "On a daily basis kids do a lot more reading than they do math," he said. "If you ignore that, we're going to be in trouble."

Booth also presented the scores of what is called the "District Performance Reference," which removes the scores of students who are considered Limited English Proficient, low income, and students with Individualized Education Programs, showing the results of students who achieved a score of proficient or above on the NECAP tests.

With the scores of those students removed, the district averaged 96 percent proficient in reading - a higher score than Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown, Little Compton, Tiverton, and the Met School. The state average District Performance Reference is 91 percent.

In math, Newport's numbers are not as high, with 74 percent, slightly below the state average of 76 percent. While it's higher than the Met School average, Newport's math scores are below Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown, Little Compton, and Tiverton.

"This is a very exciting time; with a new superintendent and all these willing teachers and administrators, I think we can make great strides in math," said School Committee member Rebecca Bolan.

In Other Business
Once the workshop ended, the
school committee convened to approve several action items:
n On a 5-2 vote, the committee approved the recommendation of the superintendent to retain
Triplett Elementary School and
charged her to immediately address the condition of the building
to be school-ready for September
2014. Jermain said she will have a
cost analysis done in time for the
committee's May meeting. Committee members Robert Leary and
Thomas Phelan opposed.
n On another 5-2 vote, the
committee approved the superintendent to conduct a pilot program with the Middletown School
Department in the area of shared
services, specifically dealing with
facilities, adding a caveat that the
pilot program be reviewed by the
committee no later than Dec. 20.
Those in favor said it was simply
a pilot program, with an easy out
if it ended up not working. But the
two who voted in opposition (Leary
and Phelan) suggested the program would be a "slap in the face to
the Newport City Council."
n The third vote of the evening
was also 5-2 on an action item that
would allow Supt. Jermain time
to assess the operations of the Finance Department and to present
final recommendations to the committee by December.
Committee members agreed
that they want to see the business
office receive help but want the
results before December. Jermain
said she could deliver preliminary
findings by May. Leary and Phelan
opposed the action.
n Lastly, the committee unanimously supported the superintendent's request for a forensic audit
on all internal controls of the school
department’s finances and operations, as long as the City Council
funds the audit.

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