Will Manchester and other NH parents lose their right to “refuse”; flawed, data-gathering, and possible invalid PACE assessments if HB323 is passed? 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee:

My name is Ann Marie Banfield, and I am the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action. Cornerstone Action represents roughly 6,000 New Hampshire residents. Cornerstone’s interest in education is to focus policies and legislation on literacy, academic excellence and parental rights. I appreciate the opportunity to address the Committee today on HB323.

Cornerstone opposes HB323, relative to administration of a statewide assessment program.

Please look at RSA 193-C:3, from the statute on statewide education improvement and assessment.

193-C:3, II. Since the program is not a minimum competency testing program, assessment instruments should be designed to reflect the range of learning exhibited by students. The assessment portion of the program shall consist of a variety of assessment tasks which can be objectively scored. [emphasis added]

Where does HB 323 say that the PACE Assessments will be objectively scored? If they are subjectively scored, does this not violate state law?

193-c:3, III. The following criteria shall be used in the development of the program:
(a) Educational standards specifying what students should know and be able to do shall be clearly defined before assessment procedures and exercises are developed.
(b) The assessment exercises or tasks shall be valid and appropriate representations of the standards the students are expected to achieve. [emphasis added]

193-C:3, I. (e) Use the results, at both the state and local levels, to improve instruction and advance student learning. [emphasis added]

We were told early on that the Smarter Balanced Assessments do this. However in a revealing statement by Paul Leather, Deputy Commissioner, he said, “The state system is required by federal law [to administer Smarter Balanced Assessments] but [these assessments] may NOT help us improve teaching and learning.” (Excerpt from http://www.governor.nh.gov/media/news/2015/pr-2015-03-05-pace.htm)

Then recently, a severe blow to the Smarter Balanced Math Assessment came from Steve Rasmussen’s analysis: “The Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Tests Are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used: An In-Depth Critique of the Smarter Balanced Tests For Mathematics.

In his critique he says, “This analysis of mathematics test questions posted online by Smarter Balanced reveals that, question after question, the tests:
• Violate the standards they are supposed to assess;
• Cannot be adequately answered by students with the technology they are required to use;
• Use confusing and hard-to-use interfaces; or
• Are to be graded in such a way that incorrect answers are identified as correct and correct answers as incorrect.

“If the released items on the tests are indicative of the quality of the actual tests—and Smarter Balanced tells us they are—their shoddy craft will directly and significantly contribute to students’ poor and inaccurate scores. The result? Untold numbers of students and teachers will be traumatized, stigmatized, and unfairly penalized. “ (http://mathedconsulting.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Common-Core-Tests-Fatally-Flawed.pdf)

This is why so many people are saying that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is nothing but a set up for failure for our students, teachers and schools.

In a recent article to fosters.com, Jayson Seamon from Durham wrote a scathing article on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.
“As a researcher, I am subject to Institutional Review Board scrutiny anytime I use psychometric assessments of learning, and it is required practice to secure consent from research participants and to let them opt out at any time with no penalty. Smarter Balanced is such an assessment and should be held to the same ethical standard as all research on human subjects, in which seeking consent is mandatory.

I have repeatedly called for informed consent similar to what other professionals are ethically required to do when they give similar assessments.

Seamon goes on to say, “Smarter Balanced is claimed to be a valid assessment of learning. This is false in one crucial respect: Standardized tests have been shown repeatedly to lack ecological validity. In educational research, validity refers to a test’s ability to measure what it claims to measure, and not something else. Above all else, standardized tests measure children’s ability to take standardized tests. There is little correspondence between this ability and the ability to proficiently learn and perform complex tasks in normal environments…… Nonetheless, because Smarter Balanced – and all similar metrics – cannot approximate real-life situations in which people are called upon to learn, it lacks validity in precisely the domain it purports to measure.” (Source: http://www.fosters.com/article/20150407/NEWS/150409532)

Instead of correcting these glaring problems, it looks like we are moving from one set of problems to another.

The NH DoE says that the PACE assessments will be developed by local teachers, giving the illusion that this is locally controlled. However, if you read Governor Hassan’s press release it says that local PACE assessments have to be validated by the State. (PACE districts will administer carefully designed common and local “performance assessments” developed by the districts themselves and validated at the state level. Excerpt from: http://governor.nh.gov/media/news/2015/pr-2015-03-05-pace.htm)

What kind of validation will the state provide? Will this be an authentic and independent validation, or validation by the same people who’ve failed to offer any critical analysis on the Smarter Balanced Assessments?

Parents are learning about the problems with the SBAC and choosing to refuse to let their children take it. Can anyone blame them?

Where is the ability to opt out of the PACE assessments in this Bill if parents find the similar problems?

We heard that the PACE assessments would reduce testing. How does a new weekly assessment reduce testing?

Governor Hassan’s press release gave us an example of what a PACE question for a 4th grade student might look like. She said, “In math, fourth-graders might design and cost out a new park and write a letter to their board of selectmen arguing their perspective based on their calculations and other evidence.” (http://governor.nh.gov/media/news/2015/pr-2015-03-05-pace.htm)

In this example we can see that arithmetic, which is a fundamental basic math skill, is not the focus. Instead the focus is on a real world problem involving a writing exercise and political activism on the part of the students.

What I hear from parents is that they want their children to learn math. They do not see the need for turning their children into political activists through a 4th grade math assignment, but they do see a need to ensure children can complete a long division problem with no errors.

The New York Times reported on a study out of The Ohio State University entitled, “Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/25/science/25math.html?_r=0) Researchers at Ohio State University suggested that math teachers’ focus on teaching equations versus real world applications. “The problem with the real-world examples, Dr. Kaminski said, was that they obscured the underlying math, and students were not able to transfer their knowledge to new problems.

In other words, children in 4th grade have a limited amount of time to learn the basic math algorithms and successfully master them. If children do not master the basics, they will not be able to transfer that knowledge to new problems.

Performance based assessments may not be a testing mechanism teachers would prefer to use in a math class. Timed tests may be more appropriate for mastering the multiplication tables. With weekly assessments focused on performance versus mastery, where is the ability for teachers to use what they see is the best measurement tool?

PACE is funded by grants from the Nellie Mae Foundation and focuses on community organizing. (http://annenberginstitute.org/pdf/NMEF_Report.pdf) While this might be beneficial to political operatives, this should concern every person who supports public education and the desire to improve literacy and academic excellence.

By putting HB323 into statute, you run a serious risk of embedding an assessment system that is not locally controlled, forces teachers to focus on real world application versus the basics in the core subjects, is unethical, is not validated and continues this idea that children need to be constantly assessed in the way the U. S. Department of Education prescribes.

Several states have withdrawn from the Smarter Balanced Consortium. There is no reason that New Hampshire cannot do the same.

Parents want to know their children are mastering the academic content for their respective grade level. They are fed up with Common Core confusing math that fails to teach their children basic arithmetic.

Adding another experimental assessment without any ability to opt out will erode the rights of parents to protect their children from a possible assessment that may do nothing to help their children academically.