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.