The Common Core education reform required states to tie a teacher’s evaluation to standardized testing. This was done by the former Obama administration who used the power of the federal government to tell local school districts how to evaluate their teachers. Teachers across the country revolted for good reason. Telling teachers to use dumbed down Common Core standards and providing a controversial Smarter Balanced Assessment was a set up for failure and they knew it. Teachers in New Hampshire were warning parents how this abuse in testing was harmful to children and early childhood experts explained how all of this was especially inappropriate for young children.

There was an effort to reverse this trend given the parameters and limitations put on teachers. It is not fair to evaluate teachers when there was little, if any, autonomy left in the classroom. Local control in education became a joke and teachers knew it.

Teachers have always been evaluated and never shied away from the practice. They need and want to be evaluated in an effort to become better teachers. The federal government didn’t need to come in and tell local schools how to do this effectively, especially since the bureaucrats pushing this reform had never taught in a classroom to begin with.

New Hampshire adopted “Competency Based Education,” which was another way of pushing a federal agenda on local schools. Competency Based Education was the old and failed “Outcome Based Education” (OBE)reform model that failed students in the 90’s. OBE didn’t elevate student outcomes because it watered down the academics in favor of workforce skills/training. Fast forward to today and we see Competency Based Ed. now morphing into mental health screenings and assessments.

The DESSA screening tool now used in many New Hampshire schools is a psychological evaluation performed on all students. This screening tool is used by teachers to subjectively assess students on non-academic behaviors and attitudes. Teachers have reached out to me privately to express their concerns and to ask if their own children attending public schools could be exempted from this practice.

The PACE assessments are what many schools use as their standardized assessment. These are ongoing assessments throughout the year making it difficult if not impossible to refuse. PACE also assesses children on their “dispositions,” turning standardized assessments into a mental health evaluation tool.

Legislators who’ve supported Competency Based Education were looking for a way to help students improve upon things like organizational skills. Some of these skills could benefit children as they get older.  There are ways schools can help students succeed but none of this should be done by turning schools into mental health clinics. St. Joe’s in Manchester requires 7th graders to take a study skills class. This class helps students work on ways to study and organize their homework. These are valuable skills that benefit children as they then enter high school and beyond but does not involved watering down every class a student takes with “workforce skills.”

Non-academic competencies are embedded now in every class students attend. This shift away from academics to workforce skills takes a toll on their academics. This means that an Algebra teacher must now shift focus to collaboration skills versus teaching algebra concepts. This is supposed to create children who are workforce ready but has the real potential to add to the illiteracy problem at the same time.
These non-academic competencies are included in the PACE assessment. According to Sanborn Regional School District, The PACE assessment will grade students in a way that the legislators specifically said should NEVER be done: These competencies are being built into locally-designed performance assessments that use complex tasks to measure students’ “skills and dispositions,” including self-management and perseverance.[1]

Many teachers and principals in New Hampshire have their evaluations tied to standardized assessments. I believe it’s 20% in Hooksett. A teacher will now be evaluated based on the dispositions of their students even though this is exactly what legislators specifically said they did not want. This appears to defy the essence of what the “people” wanted.

Per NH RSA 193-C:3 III “The assessment exercises or tasks shall be valid and appropriate representations of the standards the students are expected to achieve.” State law, RSA 193-C:3 II requires that statewide assessments must be “objectively scored.” How can PACE Assessments be objectively scored, or validated, according to state law?

These kinds of screenings and assessments, through Competency Based Education and DESSA, turns schools into mental health facilities, but was never what legislators mentioned when they discussed Competency Based Education at public hearings.

DESSA grades students on their behaviors and attitudes and then offers intervention. Social awareness is one of the key competencies to make sure students are aware and accepting of race and diversity. These software programs profit 3rd party vendors when they sell the software screening program to school districts. The school then collects non-academic data on students, rates their behaviors and attitudes, then the vendor makes more money by selling products to correct them.

To support social awareness, Kaplan offers additional products to help children with their attitudes on peace and social justice, economic well-being, political participation, nonviolence, conflict resolution, and concern for the environment. None of this was discussed by legislators during public hearings.

This certainly takes valuable class time if a teacher has to spend time working to improve “attitudes” on social justice in order to receive a positive evaluation. None of this appears to reconcile with what legislators supported in the past when they’ve discussed Competency Based Education and PACE assessments in public hearings. It seems to me that there is an effort to change Competency Based Education into mental health evaluations and assessments, and the DESSA and PACE assessments are fulfilling that mission.

If there is any effort to begin these kinds of assessments, it should go through the general court for approval. Using the PACE assessments and Competency Based Education in this way has morphed into an education reform that parents in New Hampshire never asked for.

Parents want to know their children are proficient in math, science, reading, etc. If the State wants to participate in mental health assessments and treatment, then someone needs to propose this reform through legislation so there can be public debate.

Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can contact her at: [email protected]