Political opponents of the Common Core frequently misquote the teachers’ unions’ position on the Common Core and the test. Here, in today’s Concord Monitor, National Education Association – New Hampshire president Scott McGilvray leaves no room for misunderstanding:
By SCOTT McGILVRAY
For the Monitor
Saturday, March 15, 2014
(Published in print: Saturday, March 15, 2014)
From the beginning of development of the Common Core school standards seven years ago, educators in the National Education Association have been deeply involved – providing input into the development of the standards and ensuring that New Hampshire teachers are prepared to use them.
Every day we see the results of the years of work that state Department of Education and the NEA have invested in our administrators and teachers. Many New Hampshire classrooms are on the path to using the new standards day-to-day in their lesson plans.
With the Common Core standards comes a new test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment. In addition to implementing locally developed curricula geared toward the new standards, New Hampshire educators are getting ready to use this test designed to assess higher expectations for students. This includes ensuring that students are engaged in the types of learning activities that help them develop the knowledge and skills on which they will be assessed. Getting ready for the tests also means ensuring that results are used in the best interests of students.
The No Child Left Behind law requires that states test every student in grades 3-8 and 11 every year. To accurately determine how well students are mastering the required knowledge and skill, any test we use must be aligned to the Common Core. There is no way around this testing requirement if New Hampshire wants to keep federal funding on which we depend for many school programs that assist students.
However, on the national level, the NEA is concerned that the new tests will not be used appropriately and will, instead, be used in high-stakes ways.
We saw and learned from the mistake New York State made when it used a new Common Core-aligned test as a high-stakes graduation requirement for students and a part of a high-stakes assessment for teachers by prematurely tying pay and promotion to the test.
The NEA has proposed a national moratorium on using the results in a high-stakes way for students and teachers. This is not a moratorium on testing. It is a grace period before the tests are used for student or teacher evaluation until schools have had the opportunity to get the new standards in place and students have the opportunity to learn the knowledge and skills on which they will be tested. These first few years will establish a new baseline of student performance on a new test. Future students, who will have had more years of instruction in the new curriculum, will undoubtedly perform better than students who have had less time to learn.
Our national president, Dennis Van Roekel recently called for a “course correction” in how states are implementing the Common Core. He reiterated NEA’s strong support for the Common Core but said that, “in far too many states, implementation has been completely botched. . . . But scuttling these standards will simply return us to the failed days of No Child Left Behind, where rote memorization and bubble tests drove teaching and learning. . . . Instead, we want states to make a strong course correction and move forward.”
New York has made such a correction by delaying the high-stakes use of the tests for a number of years.
The New Hampshire model
Van Roekel went on to say, “In states that have made a commitment to involving teachers up front and providing teachers with the time, training, and resources they need to make the standards work, educator support for the standards is strong.”
New Hampshire is one such state.
The New Hampshire Department of Education has negotiated the strongest and most effective waiver to No Child Left Behind in the country. The U.S. Education Department has agreed to the New Hampshire teacher evaluation model, developed over 18 months of work with teachers, administrators and experts. The goal is improving instruction, not punishing students and teachers, and test results play a modest role in that evaluation.
There is no requirement that districts use the annual test to evaluate teachers until 2017. Even then, the test must comprise just 10 percent of the evaluation of math and English teachers in Title I schools. In other schools, there is no requirement that such testing be part of evaluation at all.
So Smarter Balanced is not a high-stakes test for New Hampshire. Teachers will use it for improving instruction rather than the state using it for accountability.
And it’s a good test. More than 2,000 educators have helped to design it and field test the questions. Hundreds of students have tried each question. We’ve participated in pilot tests and will soon do a full-fledged field test.
All this has resulted in a much better test than New Hampshire could ever have done on its own – and one far more advanced than the NECAP.
Not costly, not risky
Is this test going to be costly? No. New Hampshire students have taken online tests for 10 years now. This is not a big new step for our schools.
Is students’ personal data at risk? No. New Hampshire has among the strongest data protection laws, about to be further enhanced by new legislation.
New Hampshire educators are ready to put the tests to the right use. We don’t need legislation about delays and moratoriums. How do such tactics improve student learning? Let New Hampshire’s teachers and districts continue implementing high standards for our students to prepare them for 21st-century education and careers.
(Scott McGilvray is president of NEA-New Hampshire.)