Progress is slowly being made.
The state Department of Education unveiled the annual New England Common Assessment Program test scores yesterday. The standardized test is taken each fall by students in grades three through eight.
This year's results show that more elementary- and middle-school students than ever have met the state's expectations in math and reading.
This is the third year that students have taken the test, and the third time that the highest percentage of local students to meet the state's standards were from Windham. It's also the third time the lowest number of students to meet those standards have come from the Derry and Sanborn Regional school districts.
But this year, both Derry and Sanborn increased their "proficiency" scores in math and reading, while Windham did not. Proficient means a student has met state standards and is a term coined as part of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.
And while the state expects proficiency numbers to rise each year, several school districts actually saw a decrease in the number of students who scored proficient when compared with last year. Fewer Chester students scored proficient in reading, while fewer Londonderry and Windham students were up to par in math.
Within the Timberlane Regional School District, students in Atkinson, Danville and Hampstead all fared well on the tests. But several grades in Plaistow, Sandown and the Timberlane Regional Middle School scored below the state average in math or reading, lowering the district's proficiency level.
With the exception of Salem and Pelham, every local school district failed to increase its proficiency level in at least one grade.
Salem Superintendent Michael Delahanty said he's excited by the news he received yesterday, and attributed the progress to the hard work of staff and students. He said the district has introduced new math programs and increased professional development opportunities in the past several years, which may have helped increase test scores.
Still, Delahanty said he's not celebrating the results.
"I'm certainly pleased that the results have shown or demonstrated some improvement, but I am cautiously optimistic," Delahanty said. "That doesn't mean that next year we won't see a downturn. I certainly hope not, I hope there's an upward pattern now, but until that pattern is demonstrated, I'm not going to get over excited."
Most local school administrators share that sentiment. A goal of No Child Left Behind is to get 100 percent of students to score "proficient" or better by the year 2014.
So far, Windham is the closest to hitting that goal, with more than 80 percent of its students in the third through eighth grades reaching that goal in math and reading.
"Consistently, Windham has done better than the state average, so that doesn't surprise me," Assistant Superintendent Roxanne Wilson said.
Despite that high proficiency rating, she said even Windham might see some repercussions from the state this year. Next month, schools will learn if they made adequate yearly progress - a label given to each school based on attendance records and standardized test scores.
Schools that do not meet adequate yearly progress for several years in a row can have federal or state aid taken from them.
This year, making adequate yearly progress has become a little harder. In past years, the state asked schools to strive for 82 percent of their students to be proficient in reading and 76 percent to be proficient in math. But this year, they have upped the ante, trying to get to the 100 percent mark. Schools are now supposed to try to reach an 86 percent proficiency mark in reading and 82 percent in math - a goal that administrators agree is going to be difficult to make.
"That's quite a jump, while we many have increased in proficiency, you can bet when AYP comes out, many schools are going to have the first strike against them if they haven't already," Wilson said.
School districts with scores below the state's average
District%Grade%Subject%Number of schools performing below grade level
Chester%7%reading%1 out of 1
Chester%8%writing%1 out of 1
Sanborn%8%reading and writing
Timberlane%7, 8% math
Percentage of students who scored proficient or better