Pinkerton Academy is finishing strong.
The semi-private school, the high school of record for Derry, Chester, Hampstead and Auburn, received its scores for the last-ever New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests last week. While the school is holding its own in math, it posted a 4 percent gain in reading and a 15 percent gain in writing, according to Dean of Students Chris Harper.
“We’ve been testing with NECAP since 2007,” Harper said, “and now it’s drawing to a close. We’re trying to figure out the new test (Smarter Balanced).”
Pinkerton’s fall test, administered to juniors, found 43 percent reading at Level 4, or Proficient With Distinction. That’s almost half the junior class, Harper said, and it’s the result of a strong effort by the English department.
“They are working very diligently to apply the standards of Common Core for reading,” Harper said. “They have done a lot of exercises in this area.”
Crucial to reading success is a reading specialist who sits in class with at-risk students, Harper said. The school is also focusing on early identification, searching in its Freshman Academy program for children who come to Pinkerton from sending schools who are reading one to three grade levels behind.
Classroom English teachers are helping students with the persuasive essay, an important writing piece in the Common Core standards, Harper said. It’s important for both the actual writing skills and the research component, which involves reading.
More than three-quarters of Pinkerton’s juniors are at least proficient in reading, if not proficient with distinction, Harper noted. Level 3, Proficient, saw 39 percent, making a total of 82 percent reading in the two top levels, he said. The state average for Level 4 is 34 percent and the average for Level 3 is 43 percent, making the state average for the two top levels 77 percent.
The writing component of the test found Pinkerton juniors scoring at 9 percent in Level 4 and 52 percent in Level 3, a total of 61 percent in the top two categories. This is substantially up, Harper said: last year the school saw 46 percent in the top two levels.
The state average was 8 percent in Level 4 and 46 percent in Level 3, for a total of 54 percent in the top two categories. “We are above the state again,” Harper said.
How did these students hone their skills? There has been an increased emphasis on the persuasive essay, Harper said.
He offered his congratulations to the students and praise to the Pinkerton English department.
While math is a harder sell, Pinkerton did not see significant losses in this area, Harper said. This year’s juniors scored 4 percent in Level 4 as opposed to last year’s 2 percent, a slight gain, and 32 in Level 3 compared to last year’s 34. The state average was also 36 percent in the two top levels, he said.
“We’re even with the state, but we’re not where we want to be,” Harper said.
He attributed the slower performance in math to a change in the philosophy of math teaching aligned with the Common Core, which emphasizes real-world problems and solutions in place of memorization. The same shift has taken place in the elementary and middle schools, he said.
He pointed to a recent freshman math activity, the Barbie Bungee Jump, as an example of infusing instruction with real-world experience.
Pinkerton has engaged a math curriculum specialist to help students better grasp the math of the 21st century, he said. In addition, the school’s Math Center is staying open after school, not just during classroom hours; the school has formed a Math Strategy Team; and the school is working closely with the Center For Math Education Curriculum.