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Schools push for quick fixes

March 1, 2013

WOONSOCKET – School officials know that upwards of 160 students at the high school could miss graduating in 2014 due to state high school reform, but whether that knowledge will allow them to fix the problem over the course of a single school year remains to be seen.
Members of the School Committee acknowledged during their meeting Wednesday night that something will have to be done quickly to set up academic support programs to help the at-risk students in the time available.
The topic surfaced after the panel heard Patrick McGee, school department director of curriculum and assessment, present an overview of the district’s performance on last fall’s state New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests.
Students who did not show at least a “Partially Proficient” performance on the state assessments for reading and math will have two more opportunities to improve — follow-up testing this fall and next spring (2014) — in order to meet state eligibility requirements for graduation with their peers.
Those who do not show some level of improvement could be held back from graduation regardless of their overall academic achievement and earned credits, according to McGee.
The graduation worries come as local schools found both improvement in some areas and fallback from past successes in the latest round of state testing. District reading scores, for example, actually improved for Grade 11, climbing to 67 percent proficient over the prior year’s proficiency of 64 percent, according McGee. Grades 5 and 6 also saw improvement in reading while students tested in grades 3, 4 and 8 all show some decline from the previous year and Grade 7 students tested the same 57 percent as the previous year.
Math scores remained a significant challenge for Grade 11 students with just 20 percent showing proficiency in either the Proficient with Distinction or Proficient categories, but that was still an improvement over the prior year’s finding of 16 percent for 11th graders. Seventh graders in the district showed the greatest proficiency improvement over the prior year, 42 percent compared to 30 percent and 4th and 5th grade students held the highest percentages of proficiency, 56 percent and 54 percent respectively.
The city is not alone in its concern over the test scores, according to McGee. “Statewide districts have seen a decline in math scores,” he said. Woonsocket is also not the lowest performing district among the urban core districts and has compared favorably to Pawtucket and Providence in some of its scores, according to McGee.
That, however, would not keep the local district from working for improvement, he said.
“We are far from satisfied with where we are and we are going to continue working hard to improve,” he said.
A key focus will also be how to provide additional help to the students not qualifying for graduation in 2014, according to McGee.
The district is currently looking into setting up a catch-up summer school class for those students or an in-school program starting next fall, he noted.
When asked by School Committee Chairwoman Vimala Phongsavanh what students must show as improvement in order to qualify for graduation, McGee responded that remains unclear at the moment.

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