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If you thought SB 193, the voucher bill, had accountability built in, read this

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The accountability provision of SB 193, the voucher bill, was added to gain needed support from several Republican members of the House Education Committee, but it was apparently written by a committee member rather than one of the staff attorneys because the accountability provision, like much of the bill, is a tangled collection of unenforceable provisions.

The lack of accountability is a core problem for SB 193. New Hampshire is constitutionally obligated to pay for an adequate education and SB 193 vouchers are funded by taking the State’s adequacy grant for that child from the school district and giving most of it to the parents. But the State gets no assurance that it is getting an adequate education in return. Here is a point by point analysis.

The assessment provisions could change again as sponsors try to win votes, but the accountability section of the November 8th draft of the bill begins by saying on Page 4,

“The parent shall provide the scholarship organization an annual educational evaluation that documents the student’s demonstration of educational progress at a level commensurate with the student’s age and ability. “

Giving the parent full responsibility for the child’s education, as that sentence does, is a foundational tenet of the school choice movement and, now, of the New Hampshire education commissioner.

Ultimately, parents are indeed responsible. The problem is that SB 193 would have the State pay parents to, essentially, set up their own education systems. But expecting parents, especially the hard working low income families theoretically targeted by SB 193, to construct their children’s education and hold themselves accountable for the results is not a legitimate system for fulfilling the State’s constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education.

It is difficult to understand how assessment criteria such as these would be enforced:

“The student shall be deemed to have successfully completed his or her annual evaluation upon meeting the requirements of any one of the following:

(a) “a certified teacher or a teacher currently teaching in a nonpublic school who is selected by the parent, shall evaluate the student’s educational progress upon review of a portfolio of records and materials including, but not limited to, a log which designates by title the reading materials used samples of writings, worksheets, workbooks or creative materials used or developed by the student and discussion with the parent or student”

The “teacher currently teaching in a nonpublic school” could be an uncertified person teaching in any nonpublic school at any grade. For instance, this provision would allow an uncertified kindergarten teacher in a private school to evaluate a high school student’s portfolio.

Also, satisfying this paragraph does not require a positive evaluation, just that the student be evaluated. There is no action required if the student fails to make progress. The bill requires that the parent’s documentation must demonstrate progress commensurate with age and ability which is, in itself, a soft and unenforceable provision. But it also provides that the student is deemed to have successfully completed the evaluation if s/he meets any of the criteria in the subsequent paragraphs, including this paragraph (a), making the whole accountability provision circular and meaningless.

“(b) The student takes a nationally recognized standardized norm-referenced test. Scores at the 40th percentile are deemed to show reasonable academic proficiency”

It’s not clear that the student must be tested in any particular subjects. Also, the introductory paragraph says the evaluation must demonstrate that the student has made progress consistent with age and ability. This paragraph (b) talks about showing “reasonable academic proficiency.” Progress and proficiency are entirely different measures, neither of which is easy to establish.

Then you get to the 40th percentile criteria. What does scoring in the 40th percentile say about a student’s proficiency or growth? Is it “commensurate with age and ability” or is it “reasonable academic proficiency”? If the child is academically gifted, scoring in the 40th percentile would not seem to be “reasonable.” On the other hand, if the child has severe developmental delays, scoring at the 40th percentile might be impossible no matter how great the education. In any case, does the 40th percentile represent the adequate education the State is obligated to provide?

These are some of the complex issues addressed by actual accountability systems such as New Hampshire has developed with the efforts of dozens of teachers, parents and experts. This quick drafting job on SB193 is not a substitute.

(c) The student takes the state test administered by his/her local school district. Scores at the 40th percentile are deemed to show reasonable academic proficiency.

The same questions apply as in (b), but this brings up additional questions. What is the “cutoff” for being considered a failing public school? If students in public schools are scoring at the 40th percentile, is that acceptable?

In addition, the state test is not “norm referenced.” It measures proficiency, using the State’s academic standards as the criterion. The bell curve scores the bill requires are not relevant or available.

(d) The student shall be evaluated using any other valid measurement tool agreed upon by the parent and the commissioner of education, resident district superintendent or nonpublic school principal.

If the nonpublic school principal at a school that is approved for attendance but not accredited decides on a measurement tool, SB 193 says that the State of New Hampshire will consider that a valid measure of an adequate education. The assessment apparently need not be a nationally standardized and norm-referenced assessment as in (b). And unlike (b) and (c), there is no minimum score and no requirement that proficiency be demonstrated other than the vague words in the first sentence of this section.

There is no real way for a student to fall short under these accountability provisions and, if there were, SB 193 provides no remedy. The private or home school would continue to be eligible for state funded vouchers and the State would no longer be able to assert that it meets its obligation to fund an adequate education for every student.

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