Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashua) has been quoting Nashua teachers saying, anonymously, that the Smarter Balanced test is bad. Yesterday he circulated a letter from Nashua Teachers’ Union president Robert Sherman making some of the same points. This being the first time I’d seen these complaints with a name attached, I had a lot of questions for Mr. Sherman. I haven’t heard back but if I do I will post his response. Here’s my email:
Mr. Sherman, Nashua Teachers’ Union President ,
Rep. Murotake has forwarded your NHDOE letter to the House Education Committee saying that it is “germane to your consideration of HB1432…,” a bill that would suspend all annual assessments of any kind in New Hampshire. I have several questions about your letter.
First, did you intend – or anticipate – that your letter would be used politically in support of HB 1432? And did you know that HB 1432 would violate federal law, risk $116 million in federal funding for New Hampshire and violate the State’s No Child Left Behind waiver agreement, putting Nashua and the rest of New Hampshire back under NCLB and AYP ratings?
Second, Superintendent Conrad has told the Nashua Board of Education that the district has the bandwidth and technology necessary needed for the test. You say that’s not true. You even assert that your computer monitors are too small, although the Smarter Balanced test requires just a 10 inch monitor. Can you provide any evidence at all for your various assertions that Nashua will not be technologically prepared for the Smarter Balanced test a year from now?
You go on to complain about the 12 week testing window. Which schools will need to use the full 12 week window? What testing window do you anticipate that most schools will use? And, most importantly, do you think that the variability introduced by the 12 week window should be a significant factor in deciding whether to proceed with Smarter Balanced?
Then you say that the test items are not developmentally appropriate, that they are “aggressively punitive, age inappropriate and impersonal in nature to the student.” That’s hard to square with how the test has been developed. According to Joe Wilhoft, executive director of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, more than 2,000 educators have contributed to building Smarter Balanced. More than 500 teachers wrote and reviewed questions. Researchers sat with students as they worked through various types of questions to see where students might get stuck. Then hundreds of students have tried each question.
So far, I’ve seen only anonymous quotes from Nashua teachers objecting to the test, but I would very much like to talk with them myself. Because the educators I’ve talked with all over New Hampshire disagree with you about the quality of the test:
- Look at what the Sanborn teachers said after taking the same test.
- And Melissa Keenan, assistant superintendent at White Mountains Regional School District, testified that “While, of course, we are nervous about being prepared and doing well, our teachers are excited about a number of features associated with Smarter Balanced.” Then she goes on to list some of the benefits of the new test.
- As Lisa Witte, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at SAU 34, testified, “Test anxiety is very real…However, it is inaccurate to arbitrarily attribute them specifically to the Common Core or any single assessment….The adaptive nature of the Smarter Balanced Assessment – presenting questions of varying levels to students in response to incorrect or correct answers on previous questions – will reduce anxiety, boost confidence, and have the added benefit of providing a better picture of ‘where students are’ for teachers to use in planning future instruction.”
- Dr. Elaine Arbour, assistant superintendent in Claremont, testified that, in her region of the state, “Curriculum Administrators and teachers believe that the increased rigor is a positive development that will support our students’ readiness to compete in a global economy.”
- Dr. Mark V. Joyce, executive director of the New Hampshire School Administrators Association, testified, “I would certainly agree that [the new tests] are more challenging than some prior local standards but if we expect our students to improve in their overall achievement – whether in comparison to another state or country – it is only logical that we need to teach more rigorous lessons.”
Nashua teachers seem to be in the minority.
And, finally, I’m sure you must realize that NCLB requires a single state-wide annual assessment. So on what basis do you anticipate that NHDOE could disregard federal law and allow Nashua to choose whatever test it wanted?
In closing, Mr. Sherman, I want to point out that your national union leadership has taken the position that there should be a moratorium on high-stakes consequences linked to the test. But that’s what we already have in New Hampshire. There are no stakes at all, for teachers or students, in the first two years of test results. This will give a fair amount of time to work through your teachers’ anxieties and provide feedback to improve the Smarter Balanced test. Even after that, there is wide latitude for you to negotiate an evaluation plan with the Nashua Board of Education because New Hampshire’s NCLB waiver makes quite modest stipulations about the role of testing in teacher evaluation.
Advancing New Hampshire Public Education