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January 14. 2014 9:30PM

Nashua Board of Education: Students cleared to take Smarter Balance tests

NASHUA — The Board of Education voted to allow students at six elementary and middle schools to participate this spring in a field test of the Smarter Balance assessments tests based on the Common Core standards.

BOE member David Murotake proposed that the board support the administration’s decision to have students at Dr. Crisp, Ledge Street, New Searles and Mt. Pleasant elementary schools and Fairgrounds and Pennichuck middle schools participate in the field test after learning over the weekend that they were already scheduled to take the exams. Murotake then voted against his motion along with BOE members Sandra Ziehm and Dotty Oden.

“There has been an unbelievable surge of angst over Common Core and Smarter Balance,” said Murotake. “This is a decision that probably should have been brought to the board.”

However, Superintendent Mark Conrad and other members of the board defended the decision to have students participate in the Smarter Balance dry run.

“You want to pilot things to know how well they are working,” said Conrad. “Smarter Balance is not optional.”

Beginning in the spring of 2015, all students will be required to take the Smart Balance assessment tests. Last month, the board shot down Murotake’s proposal to delay the tests for two years.

Murotake said he had spoken with teachers and parents who were concerned about students participating in the field test.

“There are parents who don’t want their kids to be guinea pigs,” said Murotake, who asked if parents could opt their children out of the field test and if teachers could decide not to include their classes.

Parents can decide whether they want their children to take the three- to four-hour field test, but teachers cannot opt out entire classrooms.

“I have a problem with assessing a child on something he or she hasn’t been exposed to,” said BOE member Kim Muise, who reluctantly voted to approve the administration’s decision. “We’re still writing Common Core curriculum. How do you assess a child on something that hasn’t been taught yet?”

Oden, who has said she feels there is too much emphasis on testing, said she would prefer to see the test perfected by other people.

“I’m not enthused to have our kids take this as a field test,” she said.

But other members of the board felt participating in the field test would help prepare students for the new testing program and would help the district better understand the types of teaching and technology needed to help them succeed. Smarter Balance assessment tests will be taken on computers and other electronic devices rather than paper.

“I think if you do not approve taking the pilot test you are sticking your head in the sand,” said BOE member Robert Hallowell, who felt students would benefit from the practice and potentially do better once the tests become mandatory.

“There’s nothing bad that can come out of a pilot test,” added Robert Haas who also suggested that principals of the participating schools must have discussed the test with teachers.

“I can’t believe that principals made this decision without any input from teachers,” said Haas. “If they did, we should fire them.”

For Murotake and other members of the board, the administration’s decision to schedule the test without their input was also an important issue.

“My concern is the board is being told about this after the fact,” said Ziehm. “Are we not the policy makers?”

Ziehm said the decision to participate in the field tests was an example of the administration’s top-down approach that doesn’t give an adequate amount of attention to the voices of teachers.

Ziehm has also consistently questioned other aspects of Common Core and Smarter Balance.

“You raise the students’ depth of knowledge by teaching, not by raising standards and testing,” she said.


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