PORTSMOUTH — Although Portsmouth students once again scored well above the statewide averages in the latest round of New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) testing, school officials say there’s still room for improvement.
Results from the fall 2012 NECAP tests, given to students in grades 3 to 8, and 11, indicated that overall, Portsmouth students held steady in their proficiency in reading and math compared to the previous year. Eighty-six percent of students scored proficient in reading, 1 percent lower than in the previous year. For math, 77 percent of students in Portsmouth scored proficient in 2012, a 1 percent gain.
Statewide, 73 percent of students were proficient in reading in 2012, which represents no change over the previous year. The state average for students proficient in math for 2012 was 57 percent, a 1 percent increase.
Over the five-year period from 2008 to 2012, both math and reading proficiency has increased in Portsmouth — by 3 percent in reading and 5 percent in math. Statewide, there was a 4 percent improvement in both reading and math over the past five years.
Drop in elementary reading
More concerning was the decline in reading scores in grades 3 and 6. Grade 3 students dropped 9 percentage points in reading proficiency, from 89 percent in 2011 to 80 percent in 2012. In grade 6, reading proficiency went from 90 percent in 2011 to 82 percent in 2012. By school, reading scores went down 9 percent at Melville and 7 percent at Hathaway.
“Whenever we see drops of 7 percent, that raises concerns and we ask, ‘Why did this happen?'” said Jeffrey Schoonover, interim director of instruction and assessment.
But even before the scores came out, he said, the district was exploring ways to improve literacy. “We’re addressing that. We know we need to tighten some things up,” said Mr. Schoonover.
Dr. Lynn Krizic, superintendent of schools, said the drop in reading scores, particularly in grade 3, is not cause for alarm. “But it’s caught our attention,” she said.
Another area the schools would like to put more focus on is writing, Mr. Schoonover said.
“The writing scores don’t affect our accountability, but the writing scores in grades 5, 8 and 11 (is) where the gap between our average and the state average is the smallest,” he said. “We know we need to emphasize writing more.”
Grade 11 math scores puzzling
The district is also trying to find answers for the large discrepancy in the grade 11 math scores compared to the younger students. However, it’s not just a problem in Portsmouth, according to Mr. Schoonover.
“If you look at whole spectrum in reading, we’re always consistently in the 80 percent range, up to 90 percent in grade 11,” he said. “When you look at math, it’s really the same thing from grades 3 to 8; we are consistently in the 80 percent range.”
But things change when you get to the high school, he said. “We go from 80 percent proficient in eighth grade, to the 50s in the high school,” he said, adding that the state average for proficiency in grade 11 math is in the 30s. “Grade 11 math stands out for us and every other district in the state. This is something districts all over the state are struggling with. There is definitely room for improvement.”
As for why there’s such a large discrepancy, it’s a mystery.
“People have been asking that for a long time. We don’t really know,” Mr. Schoonover said, adding that because there’s no NECAP testing done in grades 9 and 10, it’s difficult to track any progression in math performance. “We don’t know where this is happening.”
Breakdown by school
Here’s a breakdown of the 2012 NECAP results by school in Portsmouth:
Hathaway: Students were 81 percent proficient in reading, a 7 percent decline from 2011 but a 7 percent increase from 2008. Eighty-three percent of students were proficient in math, 3 percent lower than 2011 but 12 percent higher than 2008.
Melville: Students were 82 percent proficient in reading, a 9 percent decline from 2011 but a 2 percent increase from 2008. Eighty-two percent of students were proficient in math, a 2 percent decline but 3 percent better than in 2008.
Middle school: Students were 86 percent proficient in reading, which holds steady from the previous year and 4 percent better than in 2008. They were 83 percent proficient in math, 2 points better than last year and 4 points better than in 2008.
High school: Students were 88 percent proficient in reading, a 2 percent drop over last year and 1 percent lower than 2008. Fifty-six percent of students were proficient in math, a 4 percent improvement over the previous year and 13 percent better than in 2008.