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The push to undermine higher education standards comes down to this: postpone the test….

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Political opponents of the Common Core have turned to the annual assessment to make their last stand.

The Smarter Balanced test New Hampshire has help develop is universally understood to be the best Common Core test, but attacking the test is all opponents have left.

It’s clear now that the Common Core standards themselves are a real improvement for New Hampshire students and are firmly in place.  And student data privacy, never a real problem in New Hampshire, will no longer be an issue at all when a new privacy bill passes (probably) in the next two weeks.

That leaves the complex and emotional issue of testing, the battle ground where Common Core opponents apparently feel that flim-flam will work.

If Common Core opponents can get New Hampshire to postpone the Smarter Balanced test or switch to a home made substitute, they can trumpet a victory over the Common Core and live on to fight the standards another day.  Simple as that.  Regardless of the consequences for New Hampshire.

The lead sponsor of HB 1432, the bill that targets Common Core testing, is Rep. David Murotake (R-Nashua).  He is using his position on the Nashua Board to sew confusion and bolster the political credibility of a bill that should easily be dismissed.

Here’s the story.

The bill itself: “no test for the next two years”

HB 1432 “delays for 2 years the implementation of the department of education’s common core state standards implementation framework,” according to the Analysis on the bill.  In other words, no test for two years.  The bill is confusing but short, so see for yourself.

Or maybe it says “no test associated with the Common Core”

Suspending the test would violate our No Child Left Behind waiver agreement and federal law but, asked whether the bill would conflict with any state agreements, sponsor Rep. Murotake, after months of working on the bill, said, “I don’t know.”

When testimony from NHDOE, the superintendents, the chair of the State Board of Education and many others pointed out that the bill does indeed conflict with the waiver agreement and federal law and would lead to disastrous consequences, Rep. Murotake said, no, his bill merely stops any test “associated with the Common Core.”

But that wouldn’t work either

But the federal requirement is that the state’s annual assessment be aligned with state standards.  In our case, that means that the test must be “associated with the Common Core,” part of our state education standards.

So Rep. Murotake is back where he started with a bill that legislators would support only if they were willing to send New Hampshire back into the clutches of No Child Left Behind and cost $116 million in federal funds.

Unless….unless…let’s do any test other than Smarter Balanced

But the Nashua Teachers’ Union has ridden to the rescue with a very unusual letter bypassing its own superintendent and Board of Education, disagreeing with its own national union, asking the NHDOE to “allow the Nashua School District to choose a different state assessment other than the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”

There is actually no viable alternative  to the Smarter Balanced test for the State or for Nashua.  But a different test for Nashua is out of the question in any case.  The purpose of an annual statewide assessment is to compare student performance across the state.  Federal law and logic both require a single statewide test every year.

So the teachers’ letter can’t lead anywhere for Nashua students.  But it is an asset in the political debate.

Rep. Murotake’s “open letter”

Attempting to make the most of the Nashua Teachers’ Union letter, Rep. Murotake has now written his own “open letter,” signed by 5 other board members and a former board member, doubling down on the teachers’ request that NHDOE to allow Nashua to choose another test.

But Rep. Murotake has drawn his fellow board members into a political battle in which their role is now ambiguous.

Are the signers of the letter acting as board members elected to exercise due diligence and oversight of the governance of the Nashua School District or acting as individuals?  They say both.

Although a board majority has signed onto the letter, the Nashua BOE itself voted down the same resolution 6-3 on November 18th.  Why don’t these board members just bring that resolution up again and pass it instead of writing letters about it?

Are the open letter signers willing to use their board credibility to support the political effort to pass HB 1432 while they would not vote the same way on the board?

But there are other problems with the letter as well.

Misuse of Fairgrounds principal John Nelson

As he frequently does in Concord, Rep. Murotake’s open letter highlights a letter from John Nelson, principal of Nashua’s Fairgrounds Middle School, sent to superintendent Dr. Mark Conrad and leaked to the Nashua Telegraph, conveying teachers’ concerns about the test.

But when I talked to principal Nelson a couple of weeks ago, he gave quite a different picture than the one Dr. Murotake paints.

He asked me to please tell whoever is using his letter to make the case against the Common Core or the Smarter Balanced test that they are using it in a way that is inconsistent with his intent.

Mr. Nelson said he had no issues with the Common Core at all and would not want to see the standards or the Smarter Balanced test interrupted.

He has implemented the Common Core at Fairgrounds over the past several years and says he has seen the impact in the students’ improved ability to think critically and with greater depth and complexity.

Concerning the test, he said he just wants his kids to be good enough at the mechanics of taking a computerized test to demonstrate their real knowledge.

He told me that his letter had no political intent at all, that he sent it to the superintendent – not to the school board (he said, pointedly) – to let Dr. Conrad know what his teachers experienced so that they could work together on improvement.

And, indeed, as I talked with him, he was preparing for a meeting of the district’s principals to brainstorm curriculum enhancements that would help students become more familiar with taking computer tests.

All in all, I’d say John Nelson is a big fan of the Common Core and the test and just wanted his kids to get the most possible benefit from it.

Do the signers of this open letter know that Rep. Murotake has draw them into misusing  one of their principals this way?

The myth of “Assessment 2.0”

Rep. Murotake often says, as he does in this letter, “We agree with US Education Secretary Arne Duncan who called for an improved “Assessment 2.0” on April 30, 2013, which may be used by the Nashua School District and other NH public schools at some future time”

I have good news for Rep. Murotake and the Nashua Board of Education: we have Assessment 2.0 now and it is Smarter Balanced.

Here’s what Secretary Duncan actually said in that speech:

…we are supporting the creation of much better assessments, aligned with higher standards, to propel better instruction and assess growth in learning. That is a driving motivation for our Department’s $350 million Race to the Top Assessment awards to two consortia to develop Assessment 2.0.

Those grants were made years ago.  Here’s the 2010 speech where Duncan first talked about these exciting new tests and an NYT article about it.  The result is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has long been part of and another consortium called PARCC.

It’s hard to tell whether Rep. Murotake doesn’t know this kind of basic stuff or just hopes that no one else will notice.

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