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December 22. 2013 10:37PM

State Rep. worries Common Core will erode local control

NASHUA — State Rep. David Murotake has asked fellow lawmakers to hold off on approving new standards for New Hampshire schools so state educators and legislators can have more time to review the educational, economic and political issues and consequences.

The New Hampshire State Board of Education periodically reviews and updates basic standards for all aspects of public schools from custodial services to curriculum. The new slate of revised standards requires schools to begin using the Common Core standards-based Smarter Balance assessment tests in 2015 and to adopt other reforms such as providing comprehensive psychological services and digital student profiles that would be used to evaluate students and develop ways to promote individual academic success.

Murotake, who is also a member of the Nashua Board of Education, last month proposed that Nashua delay implementing the Smarter Balance assessments for two years. The board voted against postponing the assessments.

This time, Murotake took his proposal to the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules, which must approve the state Board of Education's updated standards.

"I have concerns over the erosion of local school board and district governance by both the State and Federal Departments of Education," said Murotake in a statement to the Joint Committee.

According to Murotake, the state is setting new rules on how and what teachers teach that will require an unknown amount of time and money, and is therefore an unfunded mandate.

"I believe that this is an inappropriate over-reach into the legal and policy-making domain of our local school board and our citizens," he said. "By example, the mandate to adopt Common Core State Standards by Spring 2015, without adequate compensation of costs, in my opinion constitutes a violation of our State Constitution, Section 1, Article 28."

But Murotake took his strongest shot against the Smarter Balance assessment tests.

In his statement, Murotake said that a group of Nashua middle school teachers and administrators recently took a Smarter Balance practice exam and were "nearly unanimous in their objection to the test."

According to Murotake, one teacher found the test "totally grade level inappropriate" and difficult even for some teachers with advanced degrees.

Another teacher said the test would be a "crushing emotional experience for students" and another teacher described the exam as "child abuse for special education students."

In New York, where the new tests were taken last spring, only 31 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 received scores of "proficient" in language arts down from 55 percent the previous year. The number of students who were proficient in math dropped from 65 percent to 31 percent.

Common Core proponents say the scores reflect a change in standards and expectations, not actual student performance, and they should be viewed as a new beginning. But Murotake and others, such as the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, the country's two largest teachers unions, believe that a new beginning should come after schools have had enough time to revamp curriculum and teaching methods. Many other states and groups are now joining in and calling for a two-year delay in the assessment, or opting out of Common Core.

The Joint Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the revised standards last week, but postponed that meeting until Jan. 17.

Ann Marie Banfield, educational liaison for Cornerstone Policy Research, was on her way to Concord for the hearing when she got word it was rescheduled.

"My understanding is that because they are hearing from so many people, because so many have raised red flags, they decided they needed more time," she said.

Banfield said that in the past, changes in state educational standards and policies have been approved without anyone looking too closely or paying much attention. But with Common Core, the issues are broader and the stakes are higher.

"It's all about redesigning public education," she said.

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