Earlier this year, MEMS was one of many schools around the state which did not meet achievement goals established under the statewide assessment testing mandated by the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001. Schools which did not meet the state's benchmark for their testing were placed on a Needs Improvement program. This entails a state-assigned school coordinator who will work with MEMS to put together a plan by December.
However, School Superintendent Daniel French expressed frustration that the plan is scheduled to be put together by December, but the next round of testing at MEMS will be before that.
The plan is made up by following 10 "indicators," or ways to measure if the student is receiving adequate avenues for learning and preparation for the exams.
School board member Kim Johnson, upon hearing some of the 10 indicators, asked how the school could do better as "we already are doing all of that." Parents and teachers in the audience asked the board what they can possibly do to help get MEMS off of the list of schools that need improvement. "I don't think we'll ever get off the list; we're too big," said French.
He then explained that the subgroups of students can also alter the needs-improvement status of the school; the subgroups contain groups of students such as those in special education or English Language Learners, those whose first language is not English. If any of those groups contains fewer than 40 students, and they do not make the benchmark, they will not place the school on needs improvement due to their size. However, if the group is above 40 and they do not meet the benchmark, which is the case of many groups in MEMS, then the school can be placed on needs improvement.
Also, they will continue to face hardships as the benchmark moves to require 100 percent efficiency by the 2014-2015 school year.
"The next part of it though is that the rules will change here shortly. The whole system will have to be recalibrated and we'll have to start over," said French, referring to the new testing that will be implemented by 2014.
French concluded the discussion explaining that they plan to work with the state's school coordinator to see where the state education agency believes they should be improving, despite still functioning under their previous plan and not being able to implement the new one until after the next round of testing.
Earlier in the meeting, Heather Chirtea, from Digital Wish, a Manchester-based organization which raises funds to provide schools with up-to-date computer and technological equipment, was on hand.
She presented to the board not only her findings from working with other schools regarding students and technology, but to provide insight into what she could do for MEMS.
As a school that is already on a 1:1 student laptop program, board member Katy McNabb said that they were interested in having Chirtea look at their strategy and tell them not only what is working, but how they would determine if something is working or not.
"There are two areas to look," Chirtea said. "One is that you can do an assessment 'pre-opposed'... since it's the start of the school year, I would recommend doing an assessment of the students and the teachers independently of each other."
The other assessment she suggested was to look at what would happen if the laptops were taken away and how the students would react as well as what would happen to their learning.
"The value of your program moving forward will be largely contingent of the success of the implementation that you have had in the past," Chirtea said. She also went into the importance of establishing the students as responsible digital citizens. In order to do this, she said that they would put a content filter on the laptops for students 13 years old and under for while they are in school; however, once they take the laptops home the filter would not be enabled. For students over the age of 13, she said that they would not put a filter on the laptops at all.
"The safer route is actually to teach them when to tell, when to grab an adult, how to become a mentor for their peers, how to become digital leaders, and... foster an entire culture of safe practice within the school," Chirtea said.
Board member Brian Vogel was interested to know how often they had found a student who, once they had taken the laptop home, was found to have used the laptop for inappropriate means.
"When an infraction happened, nine times out of ten it was the parent or sibling, it was not the student who was in the program," Chirtea said. She explained this is because they encourage students to let their family use their computer and teach them skill sets such as making powerpoints or how to apply for jobs online and fill out a resume; however, sometimes in the process they may visit a site that is not in accordance with the student's usage policy.
The suggestions and methods Chirtea expressed were taken in by the board, although they were not intending to make any decision that night; Superintendent Dan French explained that they were looking for another perspective on the program and may perhaps utilize their services in the future.