Manchester Rep. Mary Heath, long-time educator and former deputy education commissioner, speaks out on the importance of the Common Core and, especially, the new Smarter Balanced test:
Standards and assessments in New Hampshire are not new. In 1993, the General Court passed a bill which codified the New Hampshire Curriculum Frameworks and assessments. That action launched statewide conversations about student learning based on standards.
In 2003, in response to the No Child Left Behind Act, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont adopted Grade-Level Expectations and the New England Common Assessment Program, better known as NECAP. The next step is the state’s College and Career Ready Standards.
The purpose of these statewide standards and assessments was and still is to gauge student progress, school-by-school and classroom-by-classroom, so that teachers, parents, legislators and community members can make informed decisions about the ability of public schools to educate children. The student data informs curriculum decisions and impacts local educational planning goals and budgets. Most importantly, they explain how well students are learning.
Over the last decade, the unrealistic mandates of NCLB left educators struggling and communities concerned that New Hampshire schools were failing. They are not. New Hampshire teachers rose to the challenge and demanded more of themselves and their students. In fact, student achievement increased significantly across the state for all students, including those with disabilities, economic disadvantages and other student groups. That said, there is always more work to be done to enhance student learning environments.
For more than three years, educators have investigated the Common Core and begun incorporating these global standards into their teaching. Like anything being implemented for the first time, there are always dissenters.
In a recent survey of New Hampshire teachers, they reported that the Common Core standards are clearer and demand higher thinking and reasoning skills for students and are grounded in 21st century learning skills so all students are prepared to succeed in a global society.
With adoption of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium across many states and in New Hampshire, the costs and quality of the assessments far surpass what New Hampshire can afford on its own. Employing technology further builds student skills, and superintendents report that schools have given online tests for more than 10 years and the Smarter Balanced requirements will not add to their budgets. Smarter Balanced is guided by the belief that a high-quality assessment system can be a tool for teachers and schools to improve instruction and help students succeed. More information can be found at http://www.education.nh.gov/spotlight/ccss/sbac.htm.
Key to all of this is teacher training and the support of parents and communities. As New Hampshire rolls out the assessments aligned to the College and Career Ready Standards, which incorporate the Common Core, there will be glitches and bumps along the way but, the state will have the benefit of what multiple states are experiencing. The standards specify what students should know and be able to do in each grade and by the end of high school. Districts, schools, parents and teachers still determine how to engage students toward curriculum goals defined by the local school district.
And while student data security is always a concern, New Hampshire’s contract with Smarter Balanced will reflect New Hampshire law that no personally identifiable information about a student be disclosed. No one can require the unique identifier.
Today, New Hampshire is stepping aside from the punitive aspects of NCLB. The Department of Education successfully applied for and was granted a waiver to encourage standards and assessment tools that look at student growth, and to provide teachers with guidance regarding changes in teaching and learning strategies.
In addition, Education Commissioner Virginia Barry convenes educators regularly regarding teacher effectiveness and the elements of the design for teacher and administrator evaluations. To her credit, she is standing up for children and is stepping forward on the behalf of educators to enhance what works for children in New Hampshire. Furthermore, student assessments results will be only one element of a teacher’s evaluation, not the only measure.
In New Hampshire, whether you are right, middle or left, what really matters is the students and their learning. New Hampshire has to stop bickering about standards and focus on building the capacity of its teachers and schools so that each child is learning at or above the expected standards.
Rep. Mary Heath, D –Manchester, is a former Department of Education deputy commissioner and retired dean of the School of Education at Southern New Hampshire University.
Keep in mind that teachers are not allowed to speak out publicly against, only in favor of school policies. When these standards were adopted in 2010 not one member of the public testified at either of two rushed public hearings. No effort was made to involve the public, only to adopt the standards to qualify for more federal funds. It’s always about the money, not the children. At the time, the Chairman of the NH Board of Education objected, saying these Common Core Standards were being “shoved down our throats.” So instead of marginalizing those who have real concerns, it’s about time parents were allowed to scrutinize and discuss what is happening in their public schools. Otherwise, the only option will be for parents to OPT OUT their children from these non-validated assessments, which are using our children as unpaid participants in research for the profit of private assessment corporations.
Teachers in Nashua are speaking out against and obviously doing it without fearing for their jobs. I hear about plenty of teachers who express concerns at school, but they get addressed and everyone moves on. The Manchester math teacher – is her name Ali Rankin? – testified against the Common Core to the Manchester school board and the House Education Committee. The frequently quoted teachers and principals in New York are up in arms – in that case, because their Common Core implementation is so bad. But they do not fear firing and they have not been fired.
Did you notice how the Nashua teachers are not objecting to the Common Core? They have raised issues with the test that, to the extent that they are true, must be addressed. They have proposed the same solution that Rep. Murotake now says he is proposing. It can’t happen, but those teachers have entered the political debate, clearly without fear.
Fear is not the reason you see so little objection to the Common Core in New Hampshire from teachers who have used it in their classrooms. They actually like it.
All anyone has to do is look at the latest PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) results to see that we are far behind as a country and falling further behind each year the assessment is administered. Clearly the status quo is not working and the Common Core and associated assessments (e.g., Smarter Balanced) offer a very compelling way forward.
Common Core isn’t wrong simply because of WHAT it teaches. Common Core is wrong because it is an unconstitutional, federal usurpation of state and local authority. It’s a private initiative from the Gates Foundation used by the federal government to coerce states.
The notion of federal intrusion is a tea party myth. The Common Core was created by a consortium of states just as New Hampshire’s previous standards, the GLEs, were. It’s true that the U.S. Department of Education supports the use of the Common Core, but no federal funding actually depends on the using the new standards. TX, AK and VA all got big Race to the Top funding but don’t use the Common Core. There was no coercion involved.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion or myth, but there really is just one set of facts!