Administrator: Brunswick schools must look beyond tests

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BRUNSWICK — Assistant Superintendent of Schools Greg Bartlett on Wednesday reviewed results from last fall’s New England Common Assessment Program.

But a major part of his presentation to the School Board focused on how to narrow the achievement gap for the growing population of special education and lower-income students.

For the NECAP reading tests, 76 percent of the 1,000 students in grades 3-8 were found to be proficient or proficient with distinction in reading. Sixteen percent were partially proficient and 8 percent were substantially below proficiency.

For the NECAP math tests, 65 percent of 1,003 students tested were found to be proficient or proficient with distinction in mathematics. Nineteen percent were partially proficient, while 16 percent were substantially below proficiency. 

However, Bartlett said, the tests shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate measure.

“Our schools will not improve if we value only what tests measure,” Bartlett said, quoting the work of education expert Diane Ravitch, who has been a major critic of the current U.S. education system. “The tests we have now provide useful information about students progress in reading and mathematics, but they cannot measure what matters most in education.”

Bartlett noted that the percentage of special education students has increased from 14 percent to 18 percent during the school year, and that the number is expected to reach 20 percent, or 485 students, by the end of the school year.

He said the percentage of low-income students has increased 4 percent over the past three years and 10 percent over the past six years.

“That’s a significant change in the community and this school system,” Bartlett said. He also noted an increase in homeless students, from six in 2008 to 26 in 2013.

Bartlett said one of the frustrations of elementary school teachers is they have students who “may be progressing – and the data shows that they’re progressing – but they’re so far behind, like they may be a year and a half behind other kids.”

He said student attendance can play a major role in this, citing recent research that found that low-income, homeless and transient students are far more likely to miss school on a regular basis and suffer academically.

To fight against attendance problems, Bartlett said the School Department is going on a “campaign to improve attendance with parents in a positive way,” by informing them about the impact poor attendance can have on learning.

“If there are 18 days you’re out of school, excused or not, that’s 10 percent of the school year they’re missing instruction,” he said. “That’s causing a lot of these gaps because they’re not there to get the instruction.”

Bartlett said other ways the School Department plans to narrow the achievement gap is by working to improve the response-to-intervention programs, develop more common benchmarks and assessments for report cards and prepare for the state’s transition to the Common Core learning standards.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.