By Scott McGilvray, NEA-NH President
From the very beginning of development of the Common Core standards, seven years ago, educators in the National Education Association have been deeply involved – first in providing input into the development of the new standards and now in ensuring that teachers in New Hampshire are prepared to use them in their classrooms.
Every day we see the results of the years of work that NHDOE and NEA-NH have invested in our administrators and teachers. Many NH 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 assessment – The Smarter Balanced Assessment. In addition to implementing locally-developed curricula geared toward the new standards, New Hampshire educators are also getting ready to implement this new test that is designed to assess the higher expectations for students outlined in the Common Core standards. This work includes preparing our students and teachers for the new test by ensuring that both educators and students know what the tests will measure and 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 new tests also means ensuring that test results are used in ways that are in the best interests of students.
The No Child Left Behind law requires that states test every student in grades 3 thru 8 and students at the 11th grade every year. To accurately determine how well our students are mastering the required knowledge and skill, any test we use must be aligned to the New Hampshire College and Career Ready Standards which, for English and math, is 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, the National Education Association 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 that New York State made when they 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.
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. We fully understand that 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 has 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 goes on to say 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 (NCLB), 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.
NEA President 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 what we feel is 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 is to be used as one of the evaluation measures in the student learning domain in Title I schools.
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.
Is this test going to be costly? No. NH students have taken on-line 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.