MANCHESTER, NH – Manchester School District leaders say new data shows improvement in math and reading but also that the city’s public schools still have a long way to go before reaching acceptable levels.
In a presentation for the Manchester Board of School Committee Monday on iReady Diagnostic Data (see below) provided by Manchester School District Assistant Superintendent Amy Allen and Manchester School District Title IX Coordinator Sherri Nichols, the vast majority of students across the district from Kindergarten to Grade 8 performed under grade level in mathematics and reading.
The aptitude levels were worse in mathematics than reading, something Allen said has been occurring across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Nichols stating that an 8 percent drop has not been uncommon in other parts of the country.
Only 7 percent of students in first, second and third grade were at or above the current grade level they were heading into in September, or “green” category, when it came to aptitude in mathematics. In contrast, 23 percent, 42 percent and 47 percent of students in those respective grades were in the “red” category, indicating two grade levels below where they should be in mathematics. Over half of fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth graders tested in these red zones.
However, there was a 1 percent overall improvement from the 2019-2020 figures, which saw 45 percent of all students above the “red” category, with students in the “yellow” category, or one grade level below their current grade considered to have the skills to access grade-level learning since the testing occurred just before the beginning of instruction at that grade level.
In reading, no kindergarten students were recorded at the “red” level, but only 18 percent were in the “green” level, with “green” levels staying between ten percent and 27 percent depending on the grade, but “red” levels hovering near or above 50 percent from second grade to eighth grade.
Here, Allen and Nichols said that “non-red” levels are comparable compared to 2019-’20, but there were pockets of success in areas that have used the Amplify Reading and Ready Classroom Mathematics programs, although data for specific schools was not available on Monday night.
In response to Ward 11 BOSC Member Dr. Nicole Leapley, Allen and Nichols stated that these figures, and indeed anything below 100 percent “green” is unacceptable. While they said that the predicted figures were not as bad as expected, Allen said that there is still a significant amount of work ahead to do for the district.
Allen and Nichols said that part of the issue came from students coming into the school district already below grade level in mathematics and reading and other students living in homes where English is not frequently spoken struggling in reading aptitude at school.
Area resident Patrice Bernard, who wished to participate in public comment but instead sent a letter to the BOSC out of an abundance of caution after experiencing illness, expressed concern. Specifically, in the letter she mentioned the policy of “social promotion,” or promoting a child to the next grade when they may not be ready for it to avoid emotional or psychological trauma to the child seeing their friends advance while they stay behind.
She said that social promotion was not as necessary for younger children and can have long-term ramifications.
“The current numbers, while terrible, are not surprising. If you remember the results we were given this past June, you would know that these were coming. We knew then that over 50 percent of the students now sitting in freshman math classes were functioning at a 5th grade math level. You cannot teach algebra 1 to students who do not understand fractions, decimals, and percents. But this district’s policy of Social Promotion is forcing our high school math teachers to do just that,” she said.
Proposed solutions to improving iReady scores by Allen and Nichols included additional coaching staff to assist teachers with students who are struggling with math and reading, also raising stipends for tutors from $25 to $40 per hour. Continued organization of dedicated time to math and reading instruction was also mentioned.
Specific targets for improvement are expected to be released in January. An additional assessment is also scheduled for January, with results presented in March and a third assessment scheduled in May with results presented in June.