Residents Continue to Question Smarter Balanced Testing

Londonderry resident Laura El-Azem asked the school board for a status update on a waiver of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) testing that is scheduled for next year.

The tests replace the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP).

Superintendent Nathan Greenberg told El-Azem at the Tuesday, April 1 School Board meeting, that the waiver is moving ahead.

“It’s going to be part of a waiver proposal that the state is putting in to the federal government, so we think we’re in pretty good shape on that,” he said. “What we are going to be doing next year is Ready Step in grade 8, Ready Step in grade 9, and Pre SATs in grade 10 and in grade 11. My guess is our proposal stands an outstanding chance of being approved by the federal government.”

Greenberg said the state commissioner of education “is taking a very proactive stance regarding what is called waiver 3.0, and Londonderry along with probably four or five other towns will probably wind up having an outstanding chance at piloting this type of assessment for the waiver program,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg explained that Ready Step is a precursor to the SAT and part of a consistent sequence of testing. “So we’re really comfortable with that,” Greenberg said.

When El-Azem asked if the planned testing would require further technology infrastructure as she claimed Smarter Balanced would, Greenberg said the district was all set with technology, and the PSAT and SAT would be done with paper and pencil.

She also asked whether Londonderry was doing any pilot testing for Smarter Balanced next year. Greenberg said he thought that would happen at one grade level, but Assistant Superintendent Andy Corey said that had yet to be approved.

“So none of the Londonderry students are taking the pilot test?” El-Azem asked.

“As of today, no,” Corey said.

Contacted after the meeting about her concerns, El-Azem said she addressed the board because of the proposed school district plans to change testing from NECAPs to Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced testing.

El-Azem said she is concerned that Common Core “is being slid in without public discussion.

“Whereas Common Core is a suggestion, Smarter Balanced is not optional,” she said. “It is going to be required testing. Nobody has really gotten a look at it yet; it won’t be tested in advance. It’s going to be yet another test foisted on the kids.”

She added that because the test is administered by computer, “there’s investment up front. There’s some practical concerns, but my greater concern about Smarter Balanced is in the privacy arena, because both Common Core and Smarter Balanced have been developed by the federal Department of Education (DOE) and this organization of chief school officers from each state. A huge amount of money was dumped into Common Core during the last round of stimulus, and each state was required to have a database for all the information that was gathered.”

El-Azem said the federal government is requiring the information gathered be shared onto an “interoperable” data base.

“While that may not be technically federal, requiring 50 states to have a database that can be interoperable is effectively a federal database,” she claimed. “But where it becomes a lot more scary is when you look at the stated goals of the DOE; one of the goals is to collect information. When you start looking into what they want to collect, it’s not about what the grades are on the test.

“Although New Hampshire has some pretty good privacy safeguards, once it gets shunted up to the database as it is supposed to be, it will be shared with DOE,” she asserted. “The DOE has said it wants to share the information with other organizations.”

Resident Glenn Douglas told the board he had read that no substitutes can be made for the Smarter Balanced test.

Greenberg responded that Smarter Balanced wasn’t set to go online until spring of 2015.

“There has to be state assessment, or the state loses millions of dollars in federal aid,” he explained. “You have to participate in the state assessment, and what we’ve asked is can we pursue an alternate means of doing that, and we’re waiting to hear what the answer is.”

Asked how much funding the district would lose if it opted not to give the Smarter Balanced tests without receiving a waiver, Greenberg said “30 cents per thousand.”

“In other words millions, and naturally that money would have to come out of our operating budget,” board member Nancy Hendricks said. Greenberg agreed.

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