HB 1338, Respecting Parents’ Rights to Refuse Statewide Assessment Participation

HB 1338 had a public hearing on January 21, 2016 and the House Education Committee requested evidence of rewards and punishments used to encourage higher participation rates in the statewide assessments. Below is the support information submitted to them.

HB 1338 is scheduled for an executive session on February 16th at 9:30am and the public has until then to provide additional compelling evidence to support parents’ rights to refuse these assessments for their students.

To contact the entire House Education Committee, you may send one email to HouseEducationCommittee@leg.state.nh.us. The General Court website is experiencing several technical difficulties (the committee’s email is not always working and dockets are not reliably updated), so consider contact the Representatives directly. Particularly mention if you are a constituent. Below are the emails for each member of the House Education Committee:

ladd.nhhouse@charter.net
john.balcom@leg.state.nh.us
beshaw3@comcast.net
ralph.boehm@leg.state.nh.us
bob.elliott@leg.state.nh.us
josh.moore@leg.state.nh.us
terry.wolf@leg.state.nh.us
junemf@comcast.net
deanna1214@aol.com
glenn.cordelli@leg.state.nh.us
cradams13@charter.net
Jason@Osborne4NH.com
Mary.Gile@leg.state.nh.us
Andrew.Schmidt@leg.state.nh.us
Mary.Heath@leg.state.nh.us
jimgreniersullivan7@gmail.com
Allen.cook@leg.state.nh.us
patchessul@comcast.net
mqgorman@comcast.net
Mel.Myler@leg.state.nh.us
james.verschueren@leg.state.nh.us

 

Dear members of the House Education Committee,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide additional information re HB 1338, a bill relative to student exemption from the statewide assessment. Rep. Mary Gile requested evidence of rewards and punishments that were offered in New Hampshire school districts. I submit the following for your consideration.

The comment below was made by a Manchester Memorial High School parent on March 17, 2015 on “Stop Common Core in New Hampshire” and “Manchester Parents Against Common Core” Facebook groups. Only the parent’s last name has been removed.

comment made by a Manchester Memorial High School parent on March 17, 2015
comment made by a Manchester Memorial High School parent on March 17, 2015

This story was further discussed on the Girard at Large radio show on March 19, 2015.

On Air News Read for March 19, 2015

Did administrators at Manchester Memorial High School engage in pressure tactics and bribery to persuade kids to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment at a school assembly on Monday?  That’s the question we raised yesterday after receiving parental posts making the allegations.

In response to our inquiries, Superintendent Debra Livingston sent an email to the Board of School Committee stating the following:

“We have had several inquiries about the Smarter Balanced at Memorial High School.

Principal Adamakos held an assembly, as he has each year since the NHIEAP testing, to talk to students about the test and how best to take it. Mr. Adamakos told students they should do their best and try. Students who worked in earnest for 90% of the testing time were qualified for an incentive raffle to win a gift card, funded through the student activity account. This has been replicated each year since the NHIEAP was introduced in 2002.

Three parents have emailed Arthur refusing to permit their child to take the test. In response, Arthur has sent the following email:

‘I am aware that you wish to have your daughter not take the Smarter Balanced assessment.

Please submit in writing your request (not email) and indicate the wording “I am requesting that my daughter have excused absences during the Smarter Balanced testing” since, technically, students cannot opt-out.

Her lack of participation has to count against our total participation rate for our school and she will be marked as not participating.’

In speaking to Arthur this morning, we have reiterated there is no minimum threshold for participation in this assessment and to exclude that sentence from any further communication regarding refusals.

As for the students scoring proficient or higher and earning exemptions from final exams, this was approved by the district administration years ago.

Mr. Adamakos is emphatic in stating he has not challenged any of the three students with their refusals, is not bribing students with headphones to participate in the test (headphones are required for the audio portion of the test and have been provided to all students by the school district), and apologized for his mistake in believing there was still a 95% minimum participation requirement for the assessment.”

Livingston’s email did not address Adamakos’ requirement that a specifically worded letter be sent, rather than an email which, according to the letter sent by the district advising parents they could refuse their child’s participation, is allowed.

In an interview with Girard at Large, Adamakos denied telling the assembled students that opting out of the test would harm the school, as alleged.  However, he did admit to telling them that it would count against the school’s participation rate.  He also confirmed that he’s been holding the assemblies for several years and that nothing special or different was done this year versus previous years.  In addition, he forwarded an email he sent to parents via the district’s Aspen Parent Portal, which reads as follows:

Parents/Guardians and Grade 11 students:

Earlier in the year I was informed at the state level that there was a participation rate for the SBAC that had to be met similar to our NECAP and NHEIAP assessments that were taken in the past.

Today, I was alerted to the participation rate and that no such conditions for Manchester are in effect. Students who do not participate in the SBAC program have no effect on our school-wide results.

If you wish to have your student not participate in the SBAC, please submit your request in writing (not email) to the main office by this Friday.

Adamakos said “being informed at the state level,” referred to a workshop that he attended in January sponsored by NH Association of School Principals where a presenter from the NHDOE was asked a question about participation rate. He also said Assistant Superintendent David Ryan advised him that the participation rate wasn’t going to be counted this year because it was the first year using the assessment. Adamakos didn’t know if that meant a participation rate would be imposed in subsequent years. Ryan did not return our call yesterday seeking clarification.

Adamakos also told us he’s received thirty eight refusal letters had opted their students out of the assessment. Out of 366 kids, that’s more than ten percent of the Junior Class has refused the test.  Students not taking the test will remain in class during the test as the school is testing kids in alphabetic groups in the school’s computer labs explained Adamakos who also said he’s asking parents for letters to have their signature and ensure an email isn’t missed.

While headphones may be part of the testing equipment, it appears the school rewarded participation with other prizes and incentives. It also seems to be an established practice, at least at Manchester Memorial High School, but that speaks to this as an ongoing problem and all the more reason to address this issue.

An article appeared in the Ledger Transcript on March 25, 2015 about a problem in the Mascenic School District. In this instance, a well-liked teacher was disciplined for distributing information about parental refusals for the statewide assessment.

“Boynton art teacher Anthony Chirichella has not been in school since Monday. District officials have not commented on Chirichella’s status, however, several parents said his absence came directly after their children brought home opt-out forms, which were available in Chirichella’s classroom. The forms, though not sanctioned by state or school, gave parents the option to refuse to have their child participate in the standardized Smarter Balanced Assessment. Shortly after Chirichella made the forms available, parents said, his class was taken over by a substitute…”

Finally, I have a letter from a parent and former school board member of Alton, NH. I have her permission to share this with the committee. This parent was threatened with truancy charges if her sons were not present for testing days. If the children were at the school on testing days, they would participate in the statewide assessments against her explicit wishes. Although she requested some kind of mutually acceptable arrangement, alternatives were rejected. She also reports that her then 12 year old son was harassed by the principal about her decision to refuse his participation in the statewide assessments. Please also notice that one of her sons was tested explicitly against his IEP agreement.

letter from Alton parent and former school board member, HB 1338 (2016)
letter from Alton parent and former school board member, HB 1338 (2016)

I hope the committee will give these New Hampshire instances due consideration in deliberations on HB 1338. If a student does not participate in the assessment, this bill requires schools to provide an alternative educational activity which can be as simple as a study hall or free reading time. This bill also protects the schools from any penalty from non-participation. Nothing in this bill changes the requirement for schools to administer the exam and make it available to all students for compliance with federal waiver conditions. I believe the evidence is compelling to support this bill and issue and OTP recommendation

Thank you.