NH can do better by our students by empowering families with more educational opportunities.
The New Hampshire Department of Education released the 2017 Smarter Balanced Assessment results earlier this week. Like many other Common Core (aka College and Career Readiness Standards) states, proficiency scores slipped in English and Math across grades three through eight.
Elementary students show only 58% are proficient or above (level 3 and 4) in English, down 1.7% from 2016. In math, only 49% are proficient or above, with a similar decline of 1.7% from last year. Eleventh graders take the SAT exam and their English score remained unchanged at 66% at or above proficiency and math increased slightly going up 4% to 44% proficient or above from a year ago. These results are essentially at the same level as the 2015 baseline scores, the first year New Hampshire administered the SBA exam.
Results from the NECAP science and PACE assessments are not available yet.
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The NH DOE defines proficient as those students who “demonstrate minor gaps in the prerequisite knowledge and skills needed to perform successfully in instructional activities at the current grade level.” Also note that New Hampshire, like other states, determines its own cut scores, the thresholds that set proficiency levels.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment is a measure of schools and districts, not students. The exam is not designed to assess individual students. Also, as determined by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor of No Child Left Behind, schools and districts labeled Level 1 or Level 2 are considered failing.
Are our students failing or are schools failing our students?
What do these test results show?
Based on the all-grade average, less than 60% of our students show the knowledge and skills to perform at grade level in English. In math, that percentage drops to only 48%. Is this the best we can do for our children? Is this meeting their educational needs, equipping them for their futures?
Throughout NH’s education statutes, accountability is referred to as “guaranteeing the opportunity for an adequate education.” Adequate is defined by the statewide assessments as well as graduation and dropout rates.
New Hampshire originally adopted Common Core (aka College and Career Readiness) Standards for English and Math in 2010. The NH DOE reiterates that districts may use alternative standards, but because the statewide assessment is mandatory and aligned to Common Core, all but one district uses these standards. It is no surprise that nearly every district uses Common Core when they are tested on that standard.
After seven years of using Common Core, is this the best we can achieve? Are our public schools providing an adequate education for our students? Is this what families want for their children’s education, or do they want better?
Tests are not the only way families and taxpayers can measure if local schools are meeting their expectations, but in the data-driven and test-centric environment of education policy, test results often determine key decisions for school boards, legislators, and state agencies.
Why do these scores matter?
Accountability is a major concern in every discussion about educational opportunities. Legislators, superintendents, and union lobbyists demand strict accountability for any option outside the public-school system. They believe that accountability to the government – whether it is the local district school or the state – somehow produces better outcomes. But does the statewide assessment prove that claim?
There is a 2018 bill that will likely demand homeschoolers again report their year-end assessments to Participating Agencies even though there is no demonstrated problem of home educational neglect. Although families may currently keep year-end results private, they must still conduct some kind of annual assessment that demonstrates “progress commensurate with age and ability” or a composite score at or above the 40th percentile on a standardized, norm-referenced exam. Although the bill language is not public, we strongly suspect it will seek to reinstate the pre-2012 reporting requirements which would also return public school superintendents’ power to terminate home education programs if they do not meet standards two consecutive years. This is a disproportionate standard and consequence to home education programs that public schools do not face.
If we apply a comparable accountability standard to the public schools, is the state closing Level 1 and Level 2 schools or districts if they have poor scores two consecutive years? No. In fact, legislators and superintendents argue that they need more funding to improve these failing schools.
Are the statewide assessments proof that testing is a strong accountability tool? Does accountability to the state lead to better educational outcomes for our public-school students? The Smarter Balanced Assessment results would indicate otherwise.
What is effective accountability?
Clearly statewide assessments are not a guarantee of an adequate education for all public-school students. While some districts and individual schools perform above the state average, of course many do not.
In the private school system, families have a choice to withdraw their children from schools if the students’ needs are not satisfied. Too often children, particularly those of lower financial means, are trapped in their zip-code assigned schools and cannot afford options that are accessible to wealthier families.
If we want to close the achievement gap, families need more educational options and not be limited to schools that are compelled to use one uniform set of standards and tests. Educational options also help scores improve for public schools and is a proven model for success for all our students.
This is why New Hampshire families need more educational opportunities. When accountability is to families, not bureaucracies, schools are more responsive because it impacts enrollment. Authentic accountability comes with mobility. When parents can withdraw their children from a school at any moment, that school becomes more responsive to meeting their expectations.
Also, families are interested in more than test scores to determine a good educational fit for their children. They consider many factors including a school’s reputation, course offerings, teacher skills, school discipline, safety, inclusion of values, class size, college acceptances, and more. Schools of choice must take all of these elements into account. True accountability is to families, not politicians.
All our children – not just those from wealthy or well-connected families – deserve an education that fits their needs. They have one chance at their Kindergarten through 12th grade education. Children from poorer families should not be held hostage by their zip codes. They don’t have time for new standards or tests or other state accountability mechanisms to turn around failing schools.
New Hampshire can put more educational opportunities within reach by enacting Education Savings Accounts, ESAs, with Senate Bill 193. This bill was retained from the 2017 session and is being considered by the House Education Committee on November 8th. Contact them today, urging them to support SB 193. ESAs give more children an opportunity for an education that fits their individual needs.
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To see how your local district performed, refer to the NH DOE’s School and District Profiles page.
For more information about NH’s 2016 statewide assessments, read the following: Tests and Accountability, Excuses Excuses, 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, the integrated assessment, read When is an Assessment Not a Test.
For information about how to refuse participation in statewide assessments, refer to Testing Time.