July 18. 2013 8:37PM

State makes Nashua's Fairgrounds Elementary a priority

Union Leader Correspondent

NASHUA — Fairgrounds Elementary School is among nearly 50 Title 1 schools throughout New Hampshire that will receive additional support to boost low test scores and improve student achievement.

Last week, the New Hampshire Department of Education released a list of schools and added it was pleased to announce they had been selected as Title 1 Priority or Title 1 Focus Schools. Title 1 is a federal funding program that supports schools where at least 40 percent of the students are from low-income families.

Priority schools such as Fairgrounds made the list because student scores on the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program tests were in the bottom 5 percent for the state. Focus schools were chosen because of the disparity between test results among different groups of students within a school.

Although the DOE’s suggestion that it was “pleased” to identify four-dozen struggling schools raised a few eyebrows, Nashua school officials said the positive tone is the result of the waiver the state received last month freeing it from many of the mandates of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.

Under No Child Left Behind, federal funds for disadvantaged schools came with a lot of federal strings attached such as annual progress goals aimed at continually improving test scores until all students within a school perform at grade level.

Schools that failed to meet those progress goals have been labeled “in need of improvement.” Title 1 schools have been required to offer tutoring and school choice options, and schools that continued to lag behind have been required to replace staff, hire outside consultants and restructure administrations.

But last month, New Hampshire became the 39th state to receive a waiver from what many considered the impossible requirements of No Child Left Behind. Now, the state’s Department of Education is developing a new approach that gives school districts more choices about deploying federal resources to help students who need more support.

“What’s happening is really a reset of No Child left Behind,” said Nashua Board of Education member David Murotake, who heads up Nashua’s curriculum committee.

Murotake and Nashua School Superintendent Mark Conrad met with state Department of Education leaders Wednesday to discuss what many hope will lead to more innovative classrooms.

“This is a process that can lead to a positive way to improve student outcomes,” said Conrad. “There are no easy answers or we would already be doing it.”

Priority schools such as Fairgrounds are top concerns.

In the 2011-12 round of NECAP tests, 49 percent of Fairgrounds’ third-, fourth- and fifth-graders were either partially proficient or substantially below proficient in math, while 42 percent were at similar levels for reading.

Last year, 55 percent of Fairgrounds students scored at those low levels in math while the percent of students scoring poorly in reading crept up 50 percent.

Educators are replacing the punitive approach of No Child Left Behind with more support for teachers through professional development and networking that will go hand -in-hand with the state’s new Common Core Standards.“What we will be doing is putting together a team with Nashua and Department of Education officials who will put together a plan on how we can move our schools forward,” said Conrad.Overarching goals include improving teacher effectiveness, strengthening curriculum, redesigning learning time, and increasing family and community involvement in schools.

Conrad said Nashua has not received its Title 1 funding for this year yet, but he is not expecting any increases.

Last year, New Hampshire received a total of nearly $37 million in federal Title I funding. Nashua received $2.9 million in aid for the city’s five Title I schools, including Fairgrounds.

“I don’t think you’ll see any additional grants, but there may be more resources such as additional tutors,” he said.

The plan of how to move forward and help schools like Fairgrounds is still being hammered out, but Conrad is optimistic about what it will mean for Fairgrounds students and their families.

“I know they have talented teachers and caring staff, but we need a sense of urgency at Fairgrounds,” he said. “It’s our school that needs the most support.”