The Derry School Board voted at its June 9 meeting to add a section of fifth grade to Derry Village Elementary School, based on a rising fourth-grade with unique needs.
The board voted unanimously to add the section after a presentation by Superintendent Laura Nelson and Assistant Superintendent MaryAnn Connors-Krikorian, in which they highlighted the unique needs and circumstances of that school’s incoming fifth grade.
The school had three fifth-grade classes projected at 25, 26 and 26 students for fall of 2015, Nelson told the board. The New Hampshire Department of Education asks each district to “strive to achieve” no more than 25, and the Derry School Board’s recently adopted class size policy asks for no more than 25 in grades 4-8.
It is a moving target, Nelson said, pointing out that after Connors-Krikorian and Derry Village Principal Chris McCallum compiled the data, a family moved into the district and registered a child for next year’s fifth grade.
Connors-Krikorian said that within the current fourth grade, she and McCallum identified several subgroups. The class includes five students receiving Title I math services, which will not be available at Derry Village next year. There are four students with 504 plans (accommodations for students with disabilities under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act), seven who need reading support, and 14, or 18 percent identified as students with special needs.
Connors-Krikorian and McCallum looked at the data from the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) test, which is divided into five percentiles. The lowest category is below the 21st percentile, and 11 percent of Derry Village fourth graders scored below that, Connors-Krikorian said. The second category is “low average,” from the 21st to 48th percentile, and 13 percent of the Derry Village fourth grade scored in that range.
In reading, 12 percent of current fourth graders scored in the lowest percentile and 13 percent in the low-average category, Connors-Krikorian said. Thus in reading, 25 percent are in the two lowest categories and in math, 24 percent are in the two lowest categories.
Nelson explained, “This means that 25 percent are not scoring at grade level in reading and 24 percent are not scoring at grade level in math.”
This is significant, Nelson said, when the district considers placing these students in a class size that is at the recommended number. Not performing at grade level, she said, means that “they have to make a year’s progress plus what they need to fill the gap.”
The concept is called “growth plus,” and it’s difficult to attain in a large classroom, she said.
Nelson was especially concerned about reading, noting that fifth grade is the last year of formal reading instruction. “Up to now it’s been ‘learn to read,’” she said. “In the middle schools it will be ‘read to learn.’”
Nelson said the administration’s recommendation is to add another fifth grade section, including a teacher, to Derry Village.
But Nelson said she was also concerned about rising fourth-graders in the district’s other four elementary schools, and said she would bring back information in the August meeting as to whether 25 is an appropriate class size for this age group.
“Let’s do this in the most informed way possible,” she said. “And let’s remember that each person in the 25 percent and 24 percent has a name attached – it’s a student.”
“This information is eye-opening,” board member Neal Ochs said. “Is adding a teacher enough to bring these kids up? Do we need another aide? Do we need to look at the way they’re being instructed?”
Nelson said the administration did not recommend another paraprofessional at this time. As to the instruction methods, she said “the shift has already started” with the new math programs being piloted and Readers Workshop. When all the classes are on board with the math programs and Readers Workshop, she predicted, “The gap will close.”
Nelson said, “We also have a large number of children performing above grade level, and we want to keep them challenged.” This is being done, she said, through the PACE program and differentiated instruction.
Chairman Dan McKenna said, “I think it’s important to continue to watch the trends. A student population could ‘bubble’ by June and decline by September. I’m not sure these numbers are what we’re going to have – we need to look at where our class sizes are going.”
But McKenna voted along with the rest of the board to approve adding a section of fifth grade to Derry Village.
Regarding the cost of the position Nelson said, “We are still looking at the possibility of reducing the kindergarten program at Barka from two half-day programs to one half-day program based on enrollment. We would shift a position from Barka to DVS. If not, we will look at savings in the health insurance budget, as the rate came in lower than expected from the insurance company.”