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HB 1432 committee amendment would require legislative action next year to continue Smarter Balanced

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The Murotake/Ladd amendment to HB 1432 (the committee amendment) will be presented to the House tomorrow, Wednesday, March 26.  The committee recommendation is Interim Study.  There is an an additional Murotake/Kelly/Ladd floor amendment, but it has all the problems of the committee amendment and more.

The impact of the committee amendment would be that:

  • NHDOE could give the Smarter Balanced assessment for only one year.
  • New legislation would be required in order to use Smarter Balanced after that.
  • The state would be required to gain federal approval to use one or more alternative assessments, a costly and long term process.
  • NHDOE would produce a report about standards, testing and student data privacy.

The interim study recommendation is supported by the 16,000 member NEA-NH, the superintendents and the New Hampshire Department of Education

Hasty and confusing: The Legislature should support the interim study recommendation because this hastily written and confused amendment would leave New Hampshire’s Common Core effort in limbo.  New Hampshire teachers would have no guidance about what assessment to prepare their students for.

Risks $116 million in federal funding:  The amendment could cost the State its waiver and $116 million in federal funding just as the original version of the bill would have done.

Annual assessment becomes a political choice: Under the amendment, the choice whether to administer the Smarter Balanced assessment would become a political decision made by the next Legislature.  It would be subject to testing company lobbying and political manipulation by Common Core opponents.

Does not address over-testing concerns: The amendment does not address the over-testing concerns some legislators have expressed but it does tie the hands of the Department of Education in attempting to address those concerns.

Education Committee leadership and the New Hampshire Department of Education have stated their commitment to working on assessment issues during the interim study period.

Problems with the committee amendment

The amendment itself is confusing.

The amendment looks as if it ends the Smarter Balanced assessment in two years but, actually, NHDOE would need new legislation in order to continue to use the Smarter Balanced assessment after the 2014/15 school year.

It throws NH education standards and assessment plan into confusion.

Superintendents would be saying to their principals and teachers,

“It’s true that many New Hampshire schools have field tested Smarter Balanced over the past two years.  Many of you have taken the practice assessment and begun teaching your children what to expect.

“We will take that Smarter Balanced assessment for real for the first time next year.

“After that, however, NHDOE will develop or select a different assessment for use until the Legislature determines whether we can go back to using Smarter Balanced.”

The amendment puts an unknown future legislature in charge of selecting the most important single tool for improving New Hampshire public education – the annual assessment.

In the current politicized education policy atmosphere, the opportunity to choose the annual assessment would give critical leverage to those who oppose the goals of public education.  The many misstatements and misunderstandings made about the annual assessment in legislative debate so far illustrate the problem.

In many other states, public education has been hurt by anti-education and anti-teacher policies.  In New Hampshire, protection from the politicization has enabled the Department of Education to negotiate a strong NCLB waiver that supports NH teachers rather than punishing them.

The amendment prohibits using the assessment developed by the consortium we have led for years and requires the State to find a substitute from an unknown source.

However, there is no viable alternative to Smarter Balanced

Smarter Balanced has already been rated the best assessment available.  In fact, the assessment has been subjected to a level of scrutiny and quality control that is far beyond that of any alternative assessment other than that of the companion consortium, PARCC.  There is no reason to think we could improve upon it.

When members of the education committee looked into continuing the NECAP or an update of the NECAP, Measured Progress, the Dover company that developed NECAP, said, “…we at Measured Progress believe that continued participation in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is the logical course of action for New Hampshire and are confident that our schools would be pleased with the result.”

There is no need for an alternative.  Smarter Balanced is a good assessment

You have heard that some teachers feel the assessment questions are not developmentally appropriate.  Basically, they are saying that the questions are too hard.  The questions are challenging because the Common Core sets a higher standard for our students and teachers.  Many other New Hampshire teachers have expressed strong support for the assessment.

Achieving the standards will take time and the assessment will provide important guidance to help schools and parents measure their progress.

The target is the Smarter Balanced assessment itself.

There is no evidence that the Smarter Balanced assessment itself is a problem.  The assessment appears to be targeted because is it a political symbol of Common Core testing.  Reassessing the State’s use of the assessment would be seen as an expression of concern about the Common Core standards as well as the assessment.

The amendment puts federal funding at risk by not appropriating the funds needed to develop a substitute assessment.

Smarter Balanced is the product of four years of development with 25 states and $175 million in federal funds.  The alternative would be a single-state project or the selection of an off-the-shelf testing product from a commercial company like Pearson.  In addition, there would be time-consuming further development, piloting and federal approvals processes required for the alternatives.  All of this would incur costs not funded by the committee amendment.

If the State is unable to do all of this in the short time allowed and does not give the annual assessment one year, the State’s $116 in federal funding would be at risk.

The amendment does not provide for the new local testing costs.

Federal funds currently pay the per student costs of administering the annual assessment.  Without an approved assessment plan, that funding could terminate and school districts would be responsible for assessment administration costs.

New Hampshire could be forced to return to the old rules of No Child Left Behind.

New Hampshire’s No Child Left Behind waiver suspends certain parts of the NCLB law temporarily.  The current waiver ends after the 1014/15 school year. Since this amendment would not allow NHDOE to commit to an assessment policy or a specific assessment after that, the department would have no basis for a waiver application.  Returning to annual AYP ratings and sanctions would be a major step backward for New Hampshire public education.

The proposed floor amendment would tie the department’s hands in negotiating further assessment flexibility in the next waiver, demonstrating to USED that New Hampshire is just another state that does not want to live by its commitments.

The amendment does not address the over-testing concerns that some legislators have expressed

The requirement that all students from grades 3 to 8 and one grade in high school be tested is a federal mandate, not state policy.

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