HB 323 Goes Down to the Wire

The Committee of Conference met every day this week to discuss House Bill 323, the statewide assessment and NCLB Waiver bill. Their task was to reconcile the different versions as passed by the House and Senate. This was the most important and contentious education bill of the entire year with more than 35 amendments introduced throughout the session. The Committee members were Representatives Rick Ladd (Chairman of the House Education Committee), Glenn Cordelli, Terry Wolf, and Barbara Shaw, and Senators Jeb Bradley, John Reagan (Chairman of the Senate Education Committee), and David Watters. Sen. Waters was unable to attend as of Wednesday so Sen. Kevin Avard replaced him.

There was broad support to reduce testing; the House and Senate members agreed to a statewide assessment in the spans of grades 3 to 5, 6 to 8, and 9 to 12. This would cut testing to just three grade levels. The three years of a common assessment would satisfy the state’s accountability for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver. There was also support to have the SAT or ACT used for the 11th grade assessment. Although both sides were agreeable to including that option, Rep. Ladd openly admitted that the language wasn’t needed, that the state Department of Education (DOE) had the authority to allow the SAT all along. (Note that the DOE refused to allow Londonderry, Manchester, and Alton that choice. See the articles in the Londonderry Times, Union Leader, and the Nashua Telegraph. )

The area of disagreement regarded what was acceptable in the non-statewide assessment years. Both sides offered several alternatives, but consistently the House proposals contained language that conceded authority to the state DOE or contained backdoors for the experimental PACE program.  The House’s last two proposed amendments contained the words “compliance,” “complies with,” or “in consultation with,” all deferring authority to the department. In contrast, the Senate sought to give local districts independent options without conceding approval or authority. The last version proposed by the Senate gave specific criteria for tests that would be acceptable, using language found elsewhere in statute so that it would not be subject to the DOE’s decision. The Senate’s proposed options would allow for a “national student achievement test or objectively scored assessment test based upon academic areas of study.” The House and Senate could not reconcile their differences for local control of off year assessments.

It was a frustrating process with the House members refusing to share copies of proposed amendments and in general not be communicative. Every amendment had to be built upon their variation as a starting point. It was not a cooperative or transparent process. House Republican leadership also applied significant pressure to pass this bill with terms favorable to the DOE.

Ultimately, on the last day for all Committees to file, an agreement was reached that provides an option to administer the SAT or ACT at the high-school level.

HB 323 (2015) amendment 2281 Bradley Committee of Conference 061715-page-001

While it is disappointing that reduced testing and true local control could not be achieved, parents can continue to refuse their child’s participation in the statewide assessments. Conceding more authority to the DOE would only further limit school districts particularly because PACE is the only alternative to statewide assessments currently allowed by the department.

We expect that some variation of this bill will return in 2016 and we must remain committed to preserving parents’ rights and local control of our schools.

Please thank Senators Bradley, Reagan, and Avard for their ongoing commitment to parents’ rights and chipping away at the DOE’s dominating authority over our public schools.

Sen. Jeb Bradley
Sen. John Reagan
Sen. Kevin Avard

For more information about HB 323, reference the following articles.

HB 323 — Committee of Conference Update
Update on HB 323 — Heading to Committee of Conference
HB 323 — A Victory for Parents and Local Control
HB 323 Compromise in Jeopardy
Update on HB 323, the Waiver Bill
Things Come Apart So Easily
Debunking the Myths of HB 323, the NCLB Waiver Bill
HB 323 Action Alert — Save Our Kids
Press Conference on HB 323, the NCLB Waiver Bill
HB 323, The Most Important Education Bill of the Year
PACE: the Next Educational Reform from the NH DOE