Excuses, Excuses

New Hampshire administered the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the statewide test aligned to College and Career Readiness Standards (aka Common Core) to students in grades 3 to 8 for the second time in spring 2016, approximately six month ago.

Most districts use computerized adaptive tests, which required updated technology purchases and teacher training. The promise was that exams could be scored quickly to provide useful information to schools and teachers regarding student performance.

Where are NH’s scores? Only a few districts have released individual scores to parents. So why the long wait for all the other parents, and where are districts’ aggregate results?

Given that results are finally being released months after the school year ended, how exactly does the Smarter Balanced Assessment benefit schools, teachers, and students? Kids have already moved on to different classes and grade levels, maybe even different schools. Teachers might modify their lesson plans and methods for their current students, but is that timely and useful feedback?

What about all the money used for teacher training and to upgrade technology across our schools? Where is the benefit if districts are pouring all this money into a system that still can’t provide meaningful and timely results?

The Department of Education has a bunch of excuses. They say results are only preliminary until they go through several processes that cannot be completed until after October 1st. They said the same thing last year, and didn’t release scores until mid-November, after important local elections. Quite a coincidence.

The computer-adaptive test has some significant problems, one being that the difficulty level adjusts based on each student’s responses. This means that students are not taking the same exams even at the same grade level.

It is important to consider that unless assessments are independently verified to adhere to basic standards of test development regarding validity, reliability, security, accessibility, and fairness in administration, resulting scores will be meaningless and should not be used to make claims about student learning, progress, aptitude, nor readiness for college or career . — EduResearcher, 7/6/15

So how is the Smarter Balanced Assessment a valid, standardized test as required by state law?

There’s another major flaw with the computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessments. Per state law, RSA 193-C:10, tests are supposed to be accessible to parents. They have the “right to inspect and review the pupil’s assessment, including the questions asked…” When some parents have made these requests of their school districts, they were refused, citing the SBA’s trademark protections. This is a violation of state law.

Last year the state DOE said the Smarter Balanced Assessment scores would only serve as a benchmark. This year parents are already hearing that these scores only give a snapshot and are not indicative of how well (or poorly) our schools are performing. How will state bureaucrats downplay the importance of these expensive tests that consume so much learning time for our students? If the results are not important, why are we dedicating so many resources to them? If the results are meaningful, what will happen if schools and students fall short of the “proficient” level? Will there be consequences? Michigan schools were told their scores on Common Core aligned tests wouldn’t count, but more than 100 will close because of failing results.

The NH DOE repeatedly says that adopting College and Career Readiness Standards is a local decision, but the required tests are aligned to the standards, so it is easy to see why districts are strong-armed to conform. But did local school districts adopt the standards through an open process, involving public hearings and discussions? Only one did so and that district, Wakefield, rejected Common Core.

If the testing does not provide useful information for students, teachers, or districts, and schools spend precious instructional hours and thousands of dollars preparing students and teachers, why are these assessments required other than to satisfy the federal DOE waiver? Even then, why are local districts forced to comply with pointless federal mandates that cost millions of dollars that don’t benefit the students? Why does the NH DOE relinquish state and local control of our schools to the feds? And why should that be a compelling reason for parents to allow their kids to participate in these exams?

Excuses, excuses. What explanation will local school boards tell their residents when they distribute the 2016 student and district scores, especially if they are as poor as the 2015 results?

Beginning in spring 2016 the state started using the SAT as the statewide assessment for 11th graders. While it boosted participation rates, the scores were dismal. Like the Smarter Balanced Assessment, the SAT is also aligned to Common Core as of March 2016. And because it is aligned to high school standards, the SAT no longer serves as a good tool to predict college performance. Consequently, many universities are no longer using the SAT as for their admission applications. Again, this begs the question, why should students participate in a test that does not benefit their learning?

The state Department of Education is setting up our districts to accept a different assessment process that is even more intrusive into our classrooms. PACE, an integrated assessment tool was introduced in a handful of districts in the 2014-2015 school year and rolled out to additional districts each year since, again without local school boards holding public hearings or votes.  While PACE gives the illusion of less (formal) testing, it includes assessments throughout the classroom experience, making refusal impossible and students’ classroom work part of the reporting mechanism to the federal DOE. If PACE becomes the required statewide assessment — and that is exactly the plan outlined in a letter between the federal DOE and NH DOE in March 2015 —  then districts will have no choice about adopting College and Career Readiness Standards, completely negating any local control and parents will have no ability to refuse their child’s participation without major consequences to their academic standing.

Expect the NH DOE to use the poor Smarter Balanced Assessment scores as an excuse to introduce PACE across the state.


For information about New Hampshire’s 2016 SAT scores, read SAT Nothing to Brag About. For more information on the 2015 results, read Where are NH’s Scores, Responding to Critics, and NH’s Smarter Balanced Results. For more information about PACE, read When is an Assessment Not a Test?. And for information about how to refuse participation in the statewide assessments, refer to Starting the Year Right.