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Even misinformation and heartstrings don’t make the sale for HB 1432 to suspend testing in NH

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At a House Education Committee hearing Tuesday (recessed until 10:45, Tuesday, Feb. 18), Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashua) pitched HB 1432, his bill to suspend all annual testing in New Hampshire for two years, as a response to the call by the unions for a moratorium on “high-stakes testing.”  But that’s a pretty tough sell.  The unions aren’t calling for a testing moratorium and the test isn’t high-stakes in New Hampshire anyway.  Testing in New Hampshire has no stakes for the first two years and low stakes after that.

Key points from the hearing:

  • Rep. Murotake cited experience in troubled Common Core states like New York, although New York’s troubles come from many bad education reform policies that New Hampshire does not share (NY has just backed off its high stakes testing, which has been at the core of its problems.)
  • Rep. Bick asked Rep. Murotake whether New Hampshire had signed any agreements that would make suspending the assessments a problem.  Surprisingly, Rep. Murotake said he did not know.
  • But when Tom Raffio, President & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental and Chairman of the State Board of Education testified, he pointed out that the bill would cost New Hampshire $116 in federal funding and invalidate the State’s NCLB waiver.
  • Rep. Glenn Cordelli (R-Tuftonboro) testified about the need for testing to accommodate children with special needs, suggesting that this heartbreaking letter from the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition about a Florida bureaucrat’s  misguided effort to comply with No Child Left Behind requirement was the kind of thing New Hampshire would encounter if we continued testing our students.
  • Rep. Heath (D-Manchester) pointed out that HB 1432 prohibits any annual assessment, not just Smarter Balanced.  It also suspends the competency-based assessments around which school districts have reorganized their instruction.

Here is the Union Leader report on the hearing.  And here is more information on the bill itself.

Highlights from the Testimony

Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashua) introduced his bill with 12 minutes of testimony in which he got a remarkable number of things wrong.

Dr. Murotake spends the first couple of minutes making the case that the Common Core has been very expensive for the Nashua School District to implement.  He says (1:08),

“Our district, since the adoption by the State of the Common Core, has been developing very very carefully implementation plans.  We’ve been aligning curriculum, deploying nearly $2 million dollars of new technology for instruction and assessment…”

However, Superintendent Mark Conrad makes just the opposite point, reporting to his board in October that,

Technology is coming about naturally…. What we do in technology is not related to the Common Core….The one area in which technology is related to the Common Core is in providing the Smarter Balanced assessment.  For most districts in New Hampshire that’s not going to be a concern and it’s not a concern for us – for several reasons. First, we have the bandwidth that’s required to provide the assessments on-line….Also, there’s a 12 week window for the Smarter Balanced, which means that you can rotate students through a very long window into more limited capacity. The Common Core isn’t driving what we do in technology.

He then goes on to say that he is bringing this bill to the committee because New York and Kentucky have had great difficulties with their “high stakes assessments.”


The truth is, New York has had great difficulty.  They’re in a mess of their own making.  But early Common Core adopter Kentucky shows how well it can all work.  They have given Common Core assessments successfully twice now because they are not “high stakes,” meaning student graduation and teacher pay depend on them.

Rep. Murotake goes on talk (2:20) at great length about a national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) survey that has nothing to do with NH and the way the State has implemented the Common Core.  His point is that AFT favors a moratorium on high stakes testing.

This is irrelevant in New Hampshire for two reasons.  One is that the test is “no stakes” in New Hampshire.  Neither student graduation nor teacher pay are affected by the test.  And, secondly, AFT is pushing for a national moratorium because the testing requirement is national law.  Proposing a testing moratorium in state law, as Rep. Murotake has done, makes not sense.  As others point out in their testimony, it would cost New Hampshire our NCLB waiver and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Rep. Patrick Bick (R-Salem) asked  Rep. Murotake (12:47) whether his bill would cause problems with any federal/state agreements.  Surprisingly, Rep. Murotake didn’t know.

Rep. Jack Kelly (D-Nashua), former Nashua school board member, testified in support of the bill, even though the Nashua school board itself rejected Rep. Murotake’s motion, similar to this bill, when he presented it last fall.

Click for video

Click for video

Rep. Cordelli opened his testimony by comparing a 15 page student data privacy policy from the PARCC testing consortium with what turned out, when I asked, to be the privacy policy from the Smarter Balanced public website (“we are now using “cookies” to customize your browsing experience….etc”), saying (26:20),

“I found it interesting.  This is the Smarter Balanced privacy policy – 2 pages.  This…is the PARCC privacy policy – 15 pages in length.  It covers everything from training to encryption to destruction of information…  None of that is covered in the Smarter Balanced privacy policy.”

There is no Smarter Balanced privacy policy comparable to the PARCC policy because state law and policy govern each state’s relationship with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and student data privacy protections will be part of a separate memorandum of agreement with each state.  

It’s not clear whether Rep. Cordelli was blinded by his own advocacy research or knew what he was doing but, either way, this is how new facts get created among Common Core opponents he speaks to at forums around the State.

Then, after expressing concerns about special needs students unrelated to the Smarter Balanced test, Rep. Cordelli went on to testify (28:42),

“I’d just like to close with a letter from a special ed parent.

“This is in Florida, with their assessments that they’ve already started.”  [Rep. Cordelli reads this letter.]

Rep. Cordelli provides no reason for reading this letter but attempts to associate the Florida experience with our own not-yet-started assessment.

This letter is clearly about a case of heartbreaking bureaucratic mismanagement in Florida, but the story actually has nothing to do with New Hampshire.

The letter involves the FCAT, Florida’s version of our NECAP but the real issue is the No Child Left Behind law.

NCLB says that each school must test 95% of its students.  The school district must be close to that 95% limit so, probably trying to satisfy a Florida DOE paperwork requirement, is trying to justify leaving Ethan out of the its calculation.

But all this has nothing to do with the Common Core or the tests.  Even this Florida anti-Common Core web site is challenged in making the link.  It says,

This appalling example of the Florida education establishment reducing every child, even a dying one with brain damage, to a test score is just a glimpse of what will happen as the full Common Core regime is implementedThis mentality was fostered by Jeb Bush and is being pushed by him as he seeks to impose Common Core on the Florida and the whole nation.  Let us renew our efforts to prevent that from happening.

When I emailed Rep. Cordelli asking what the connection was, he responded this way:

“The point of my testimony was that there are many concerns about the assessment impact on special needs students. From costs and types of accommodation that will be allowed, to elimination of the 2% rule, to steps other states are taking. The case in Florida illustrates the care, concern and commitment required to look at the impact of what we are doing and requiring of these students.”

I would agree with the concern about special needs students.  But there is no real connection between the complex work that needs to be done to accommodate all tests to students with wide variety of special needs and a Florida letter about a misguided bureaucrat.

Rep. Mary Heath (D-Manchester) is the retired dean of the Southern NH University School of Education and former Deputy Commissioner for the NH Department of Education. She has been elementary school teacher, Learning Disability Specialist, high school English teacher and administrator and has 42 years of experience in education.  She said (30:40),

“It is time to put NH students first. HB 1432 takes NH education apart and dismisses the work of our educators, parents, community members, Department of Education and the NH State Board of Education.  HB 1432 says that for the next two years, contrary to federal law and jeopardizing millions of federal education funds, there will be no summative assessment of any kind given in New Hampshire.  It does not just prohibit the Smarter Balance Consortium; it prohibits any annual test at all. The bill also dismisses competency-based education around which our 176 school districts have reorganized their instruction, grading systems and assessments and it discredits 18 months of public hearings across the state related to the NH Minimum Standards. This bill usurps the authority of local school districts, the NH Department of Education and the NH State Board of Education.” [from Rep. Heath’s written testimony]

Tom Raffio testified as President & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, Chairman of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and Chairman of the New Hampshire Coalition for Business & Industry.  He said,

“HB 1432, in its two sentence first paragraph, seeks to erase the last 10 years of New Hampshire public education.  The second paragraph then commands the State to redo, in six months worth of regional committee hearings and a report, the work the State Board, department of education and our school districts have spent that last 10 years doing.

“The first point to make about is the obvious one: If HB 1432 did pass, it would be a disaster for New Hampshire public education.  We would lose our waiver and go back to NCLB and “adequate yearly progress,” but that’s the least of it. New Hampshire schools would lose at least $116 million in federal funding as a result of outlawing the annual assessment.  Such a law would inflict unconscionable pain on our poorest children and their schools that depend on that funding for the math, reading and special education specialists, and much more, who help at-risk students catch up.

“But that’s just the beginning.  The bill goes on to prohibit for several years the competency based assessments we have been working on for a decade.  In the early 2000’s, New Hampshire developed a new learning model in which students demonstrate mastery of required competencies.  That became part of our draft minimum standards in 2003-2004, under a Republican administration, and became law in 2005, under a Democratic administration.  Ever since then our high schools have been charged with fully integrating competencies into their curricula, with the elementary and middle schools not far behind.


“New Hampshire teachers have no need to fear state mandates about employment and pay driven by high stakes testing.  The goal of our teaching evaluation model, the starting point for most district evaluation policies, is to support teachers and help them improve.  As a result, test performance can be used to guide instructional improvement rather than to hold schools and teacher accountable.  With the critical support of the Legislature, the unions and the superintendents, we were successful in negotiating this into our NCLB waiver.

“In the first two years, there is no federal requirement that the annual tests play any role at all in teacher evaluation.  After that, while student performance must be part of the evaluation in Title I schools, the annual assessment need only be a minimal part of that performance assessment.  These kinds of decisions continue to be left to the local school districts.

“One of the many benefits to supporting teachers this way is that they have been free to work on learning how to adapt their lesson plans to the new standards without fear of being judged prematurely or unfairly based on test performance.  I have heard from many superintendents and teachers how successful that process has been.

“I can tell you that the Smarter Balanced assessment will provide our teachers a valuable part of the feedback they need as they develop their new Common Core based lesson plans. We are fortunate to have selected and helped develop the right assessment solution for New Hampshire children.” [from Mr. Raffio’s written testimony]

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