When the New Hampshire Department of Education signed on to the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC)  as the state-wide standardized assessment, many of us knew that was going to be a big problem.  First of all, it’s a standardized assessment based on the dumbed down Common Core Standards.  Any kind of scoring on this assessment would mean that even if children scored proficient, parents wouldn’t be able to trust the results. States began to quickly abandon the SBAC when parents and teachers realized it was a seriously flawed test. That didn’t stop our former Commissioner of Education to renew that contract year after year.

We were told by former Commissioner Virginia Barry that the SBAC was state of the art because it was computer adaptive and schools would see quick results in order to make necessary adjustments.  Before the first test was even given in New Hampshire, the NH DoE was pitching a new assessment called the PACE assessment.

The PACE assessment was going to be based on “competencies” and would require students to apply their knowledge through performance tasks. While parents want to make sure their children know and master the basics, PACE was going beyond that in an effort to make sure students can apply their knowledge.

This all sounds wonderful except you first have to make sure the foundation is there.  In other words, before you send a child out to drive, they need to know the laws and how to operate a vehicle.

Students who attend nursing school for instance, will have to take a couple of years reading out of text books, memorizing for tests and learning academic content that prepares them for their clinical rotations.  They learn about anatomy and physiology and how the circulatory, respiratory, urinary, hematologic, immunologic systems work.  There is a foundation of knowledge that they need to learn before they can begin learning about how to work as a nurse. When they graduate and have to take the licensure test, they have to prove they know the academic content and then how they would react to different situations.

PACE assessments are performance based so there is no guarantee that the necessary knowledge has been mastered first.  PACE is also based on the dumbed down Common Core Standards.  Since there are missing, flawed or muddled math standards, there is no guarantee that your child has mastered the necessary math concepts that are needed at each grade level.

The Concord Monitor ran an article based on a recent study by the University of New Hampshire comparing students using the PACE assessments to students using the SBAC.  This was presented to the State Board of Education where State Board Member, Bill Duncan, praised the results.  But what was he really praising?  Both PACE and the SBAC are testing a dumbed down set of academic standards.  If more students perform better on one assessment than the other, does it really matter?

What parents should expect is, quality academic standards and a good test to measure if their children are truly proficient in the core subjects.  First let’s make sure they have mastered the academic content since public education are supposed to be the vehicle for acquiring academic knowledge.  This is the time when students are supposed to learn the basics and then be able to apply that knowledge.  You teach children basic math so they can later become engineers.

PACE may require students to master some of the academic content, but it certainly does not tell parents if their children mastered all of the content they should be learning.  What did this study really tell us?  Not much.  Some students in PACE performed better than students who were tested using the SBAC.

According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results the Manchester Union Leader reported,
The big take-away nationally from the report card was the first drop in math scores from 2013, with a 2-point decline on average for fourth-graders and a 3-point decline for eighth-graders. New Hampshire’s fourth-graders had an average score of 253 in 2013; it dropped to 249 this year……Eighth-grade scores went from an average of 296 in 2013 to 294 in 2015 in the Granite State.

What we need to know is, how our students using Common Core compare to students who are learning the content based on better quality standards.  A good test that measures math and science performance is the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study TIMSS .  This international test is given every four years and compares our students to children living in high performing countries.  That’s the kind of information that should be analyzed and discussed at a State Board of Education meeting. When our students are improving according to TIMSS, that’s a reason to celebrate.

Members of this board are so committed to dumbed down Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, that they are now grasping at news that really doesn’t mean much.  Since the bar is low using Common Core, the tests have a low bar too.  You have to wonder why Bill Duncan cheers for poor quality standards and testing.

Our new Commissioner, Frank Edelblut, is in the process of reviewing the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards.  After years of complaints by parents and educators, it’s refreshing to see the Commissioner Edelblut committed to quality academic standards. The State Board of Education’s attempts to shut him down recently by voting against his plan to improve the science standards was shocking for anyone who cares about literacy.

This news about PACE looks like another way to avoid the real issue parents have with Common Core in their schools. Make it look like something is working well rather than measure something meaningful.

We need to thank Governor Sununu for not caving to the partisan attacks on Commissioner Edelblut and for remaining committed to improving the quality of public education in New Hampshire.  Parents would be wise to take note on who are the obstructionists and who is truly committed to quality public education in New Hampshire.

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: abanfield@nhcornerstone.org