Jason Long, standing, principal of T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield, explains student test scores to Regional School Unit 56 directors Tuesday evening in Dixfield. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — Principals at Dirigo Elementary and T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle schools told the Regional School Unit 56 Tuesday evening that too many students are not meeting goals in reading and math, and they are taking steps to help them.

Elementary school Principal Charlie Swan said the goal last year was to get a 5% increase in the number kindergarten and first grade students who meet or exceed goals in those subjects. While kindergartners had a “30% increase in the number of kindergarten students meeting and exceeding goals,” he said, there was “no change” in the percentage of first-graders who met or exceeded the goals.

Swan said last year was the first for the Jolly Phonics program for both grades. He said the situation with first-graders is “something we’re looking to figure out.”

For second and third grades taking the Northwest Evaluation Association test this fall, 70% of second-graders met or exceeded reading goals, but only 34 percent of third-graders did.

In math, 74 percent of second-graders met or exceeded goals, compared to 44% of third-graders.

Swan said the decline in reading and math scores for those grades is because the test is no longer read to them in the third grade.”

To change the trend, the school has implemented the Jolly Grammar program in second grade and is in its second year of Jolly Phonics for kindergarten and first grades.

For improvements in math skills, the school is using the Espark program for kindergarten through fifth grade and the Special Education department has implemented a new math program also.

This year’s goal for elementary students is “a 10% increase in the number of students who meet or exceed grade-level expectations in reading and math on their NWEAs,” Swan said.

Middle school Principal Jason Long said students didn’t meet goals in either reading or math, although there was growth in both subjects, adding the goals he set were “probably too high.”

Long said reasons for the lower NWEA scores include a math teacher resigning, leaving sixth- and seventh-graders with multiple long-term substitute teachers.

“There is nothing more valuable than having a stable, quality person in a classroom,” Long said.

Another factor, he said, was six weeks of extended school days to make up storm days.

“My kids were ‘toast’” by test time, and it was not a prime testing climate, he said.

Long’s goal this year is a 10% increase in the number of students who meet or exceed targets in the 2020 NWEA assessment for math and reading.

To reach the math goal, he said, the plan is to implement curriculum supplements for grades six to eight, use an educational technician for students with learning difficulties and hold targeted intervention groups for students lagging in skills.

To reach the reading goal, the plan includes a schoolwide reading challenge this winter, benchmark assessments for at-risk students, multiple periods of English, language and art, and targeted intervention groups for students behind in knowledge and skills.

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