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Manchester expresses surprise about New Hampshire testing policy

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At its August 11 meeting, the Manchester Board of School Committee voted (the debate starts on page 60)  to send the New Hampshire Department of Education a letter requesting that the city not be required to administer the Smarter Balanced annual assessment.  Yesterday, the Union Leader reported that the Mayor Gatsas was surprised by Commissioner Barry’s reply and today editorialized that they were surprised by the Commissioner’s response as well.

This was no surprise.  Commissioner Barry has no power to waive the requirement that Manchester administer the same state-wide assessment every other school does.  That would violate state and federal law.  The Nashua Board of Education pursued the same issue months and got the same response from its attorney.

Commissioner Barry’s letter is a clear restatement of assessment policy that applies to any district in the State.  Here are some key points:

…I am not aware of any state or school district that has received a waiver from the federal government not to administer an accountability assessment. In addition, state law requires a uniform, statewide assessment, and does not grant the Department of Education the ability to waive that requirement. Thus, your request for a waiver is not one the Department can entertain.

New Hampshire worked with Manchester and other school districts to develop and successfully negotiate a statewide waiver that provided all public school districts with relief from…the No Child Left Behind law.

Using a uniform statewide assessment is an explicit condition of this Flexibility Waiver….

The federal government may eliminate funding to individual school districts that do not comply with the terms of the waiver. In school year 2012–13, Manchester received $16,916,416.23 in federal education funds. Failure by Manchester to administer the Smarter Balanced assessment will place those funds in jeopardy for school year 2014–15 and will impact Manchester’s compliance with state school minimum standards.

Both state and federal law compel Manchester to participate in the statewide assessments, and we are not aware of the US Department of Education providing a waiver to any state or individual district in the country to opt out of a formal assessment. Specifically, both RSA chapter 193-C and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESEA”) require uniformity among the statewide assessment.

…Following an extensive process, involving the State Board of Education, legislators, educators, business people, local and state officials, community representatives, parents and other stakeholders, the State selected Smarter Balanced as its next statewide assessment in math and English language arts. We did so because we feel it is the best tool to assess how our students are doing and how best to meet their needs in the future.

But as we do this work, we do it with an eye to the future. Over the past year, my staff and I have been meeting with superintendents, as well as officials from the United States Department of Education (“USED”), to discuss and hopefully achieve greater flexibility in assessment strategies. New Hampshire, because of its history and tradition of local control, is acknowledged as a national leader in such efforts. I encourage Manchester to join these discussions and planning and we will make sure to invite you to meetings as they are planned.

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