Nov. 23—The state has designated Marlborough Elementary and Making Community Connections Charter School in Keene for a program designed to support schools that struggle with student learning growth, proficiency and graduation rates.
Meanwhile, two other local schools — Antrim Elementary and Franklin Elementary in Keene — have gotten off the list after first being added in 2018, according to a recent news release from the N.H. Department of Education.
Schools showing challenges with academic achievement and student performance are identified as Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools, putting them on a list updated every three years, the news release says. These represent the lowest-performing 5 percent of elementary schools that receive supplemental federal funding for low-income students, as well as all high schools with a four-year graduation rate less than 67 percent.
This designation and support program first began in 2018, according to the state department of education. A total of 23 schools received the CSI designation this year.
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to pull together data on how public elementary and middle schools perform in four areas — academic achievement, growth, progress toward English language proficiency and equity. For high schools, data on achievement, graduation rates, progress toward English language proficiency and college and career readiness are assessed for the CSI designation, according to the news release.
Low graduation rates resulted in Keene's Making Community Connections, a high school, being deemed a CSI school a second time after entering the program in 2018.
"We look forward to continuing with the process to improve our school and our model," said Chris O'Reilly, executive director of Making Community Connections (also known as MC2, pronounced "em-cee-squared").
But he said the CSI designation and the data supporting it reflect a disconnect between the education department's method of calculating graduation rates and the nature of the high school's charter. This charter says students can proceed at their own pace, meaning they're not locked into one year per grade and can advance when they're ready and meet the criteria to do so.
"I think we would benefit more by the state understanding how our model works and how our students are able to succeed by being given extra time or more time to complete high school to gain the competencies that they need to be successful after high school," O'Reilly said.
Because of the nature of the charter, 25 to 30 percent of the students have Individualized Education Programs, according to O'Reilly. These plans are used to provide additional supports to students requiring special-education services.
In June, the state passed legislation to allow students needing these services to stay in high school until they're 22.
But the formula the state uses to calculate graduation rates factors in how long students spend in high school, O'Reilly said, which affects MC2's graduation rate.
"We don't have a problem with being identified [on the CSI list], because I think it's going to help us solve some pretty big issues that we've wrestled with," he said.
More than $3.4 million in federal funds were reserved by the N.H. Department of Education to provide direct funding for CSI-designated schools.
MC2 has been using funding through the CSI program to provide professional development to staff. And student attendance is already improving due to hiring a family liaison during the first funding round, according to O'Reilly. This liaison talks with families to make sure kids are coming to school and they have the resources they need, he said.
The previous funding round also provided MC2 with assessments and subcontractors from WestEd, a California-based education nonprofit, to set goals, do periodic check-ins and evaluate the school's progress toward those goals.
As the school receives this next round of CSI funding, O'Reilly expects a similar assessment, goal-setting and check-in process. The school had its first meeting with the state education department for this CSI round this week.
Marlborough Elementary also had its first meeting with the state education department this week, although N.H. School Administrative Unit 29 Superintendent Robert Malay said he's not sure yet why Marlborough is on the CSI list.
"I'm not really sure I can say what that analysis looks like at this point in time, but it's something that we're going to have to really roll our sleeves up and make sure we're analyzing so that we are ensuring we're providing those skill sets for students to become successful as they go through school," Malay said.
Marlborough Elementary's principal was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
However, Malay said even before the designation, school officials made improvements that are just one year old, and haven't yet seen the full outcome of them. Those changes, according to Malay, have been in the school's literacy department, including teachers working more closely with students as they learn to read.
"As it continues to take root and become more consistent with regular practice, we absolutely believe that this is going to be moving some of our results in the direction that they need to be moving in," he said.
Schools can lose their CSI designation by improving on assessments and meeting goals set by the state.
"We saw the results in the early grade levels in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd a year ago. I expect that we'll see those outcomes improve across all grade levels," Malay said.
Franklin Elementary School in Keene was first designated in 2018 because testing showed low student proficiency and growth rates in math. Principal Erik Kress said students in 2017-18 were not learning as fast as their peers around the state or country. But after staff members came together to develop a team to address goals and determine how they could make gains in math, he said students' scores have improved.
Kress said he believes the school could have been taken off the list after two years, but that consistent and in-classroom learning were stunted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2020, when the school should have been able to test out of the designation, it was unable to because of COVID-related shutdowns that March, Kress said. And he said students had a difficult time the following year because they were on a hybrid learning program. Due to this, the state decided it would not use test results to make any decisions for CSI from that year.
After students returned fully to school in 2021, Kress said they showed tremendous improvement in math proficiency and growth.
"Our student growth percentile nearly doubled, meaning that our students were making growth at a faster rate than a lot of schools in the area and in the state, so that was good," Kress said.
Franklin's goals included having students understand their own personal challenges and increasing family engagement. Whether at home or school, Kress said he found it important for students to have someone who understood their learning.
Another improvement was aligning math standards so that educators at all grade levels understand what each other is teaching students and preparing them for.
"That really helped us understand the broad picture of math and what gaps we had and making a plan to fill those gaps in," Kress said.
In addition to advice, the school also received grant money from the CSI program, which was used for big-ticket items such as student devices. Kress said each student was able to get a Chromebook, which really helped with remote learning during the pandemic.
The program also helped pay for professional development for teachers, online software applications and class sets of iPads so students would have technology that enhances learning.
"The money was a huge benefit. Having grant money to spend on things that we wouldn't have had an opportunity to buy otherwise helped student learning," Kress said.
WestEd also worked with Franklin Elementary, providing what Kress described as a thorough analysis for the school.
"They really helped me and our staff really laser focus on a school improvement plan with some achievable action steps," Kress said.
He said the CSI designation was also helpful to him and his staff by giving them a goal template they can continue to use for years to come.
"We still have a lot of room to grow in both proficiency and our growth, but we are going to be involved in continuous growth because of the structure that CSI provided us," Kress said.
Antrim Elementary was also able to exit the CSI list thanks to help from the program, WestEd and a technical adviser the state provided from Demonstrated Success, a Portsmouth-based company that offers educational support, according to Principal Stephanie Syre-Hager.
"Exiting this status is a validation of all the hard work we have put in together as a team," Syre-Hager wrote in an email. "However, this is not the end of our journey, it continues. We have a solid foundation now, but that will not slow us from our efforts for continuous improvement."
Syre-Hager said her school's plan focused on goals to support improvements to ensure consistency across classrooms. Multi-tiered systems of support were also developed for students to provide a strong foundation for behavior and academics.
"The CSI designation helped us to maintain focus on our goals, even through a pandemic," Syre-Hager wrote. "The funds provided through the grant gave us the ability to increase our resources to support student learning."
To achieve those goals, staff engaged in focused professional development through the N.H. Universal Design for Learning Innovation Network, a multi — year learning program.
"We have an amazingly caring staff who strives to continuously improve so that our students can have a positive learning experience at school," Syre-Hager wrote.
Jamie Browder can be reached at 352-1234 ext. 1427 or [email protected]
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