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The Smarter Balanced test makes good sense for New Hampshire

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The NECAP served its purpose

When the federal No Child Left Behind act required annual assessments of all public school students in grades 3-8 and 11, New Hampshire joined Rhode Island and Vermont – two other small states with small education budgets – to create the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP). It was a fill-in-the-bubble, multiple choice test first administered in 2005.  Since 2009, Maine has used the NECAP as well.

…but the new Smarter Balanced test is much better

Now New Hampshire is part of a much larger consortium of states – the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium – developing a modern test aligned to the new Common Core standards.  This computer adaptive test (it adjusts the student’s questions to the students abilities) is far better than the NECAP and was judged in a major study by the Michigan Department of Education to be the best in the country.  And, instead of testing our students in the fall and getting the results in April, when they are no longer relevant, the Smarter Balanced test will be given in the spring and the results will be available almost immediately.

So we are getting a far better test as the same price as the old NECAP.  New Hampshire teachers I have talked to have been very impressed with the new test and are looking forward to using it in their classrooms.

Some large Republican states are writing their own tests, but that kind of inside baseball does not matter to New Hampshire

Common Core opponents have made much of the fact that some large states have chosen to write their own Common Core tests rather than participate in Smarter Balanced or the other national testing consortium, PARCC.  When you look at the states involved, two things stand out.  Every one of them has a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature.  These folks are making a political statement, not an educational statement.  And they are all from large states that can afford the luxury of writing their own tests, the quality of which is yet to be determined.

The important thing is to use the test to improve instruction

And, of course, the new tests they are (talking about) writing are Common Core tests.  No state has dropped its commitment to the Common Core.  In fact, it looks as if the tide has turned in that debate.  Even Diane Ravitch, a critic of the Common Core, now says, “Those that like them should use them…Most objections to the standards are caused by the testing….Use them to enrich instruction, but not to standardize it.”

That’s just what New Hampshire does.  Testing is used here primarily to improve instruction and very little for accountability.  In fact, the New Hampshire agreement with the federal government is that neither the 2015 test or the 2016 test will be used for evaluating teachers – and even after that it will get minimal use for accountability.

The State has taken a lead role in developing the test and, in any case, would not have fiscal capacity to develop its own test as some large states are doing.  The inside baseball about which Republican states have switched to a different test vendor makes no real difference to New Hampshire.

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