NASHUA — As students in city schools participate this week in a trial run of the Smarter Balance assessment tests based on the Common Core standards, members of the Board of Education are again exploring options for a two-year delay in the official start of the online testing.
The Smarter Balance assessments, scheduled to begin in spring 2015, will test students on newly designed curriculum, which is being implemented throughout the district. Classroom teachers who have taken the tests, the Nashua Teachers Union and parents have called for a two-year delay to give teachers and students more time to adjust to the new Common Core standards and curriculum, which is described as more rigorous and advanced than prior academic standards and programs.
At Monday night’s BOE meeting, Sandra Ziehm proposed delaying the start of Smarter Balance for two years. The board rejected a similar motion made by David Murotake in December.
“This will give us more time to prepare and acquire new technology,” said Ziehm, who added that a delay will also bolster confidence in the tests.
But Superintendent Mark Conrad said the district cannot delay Smarter Balance and substitute another test without putting federal educational funding at risk.
“If you are considering this, I would suggest that you ask for an opinion from an attorney to know what your options are under state law,” said Conrad.
While a majority of members of the board expressed support for the delay, they also felt they needed more information. The board voted to table Ziehm’s motion until they could hear from a lawyer on the legal consequences of delaying the Smarter Balance tests and using an alternative assessment in the interim.
New Hampshire is one of 22 governing members of the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, a multi-state organization that was created with $160 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Under the Consortium’s memorandum of agreement, signed by officials at the New Hampshire Department of Education, the state has agreed to “fully implement statewide” the Smarter Balance tests by the 2014-15 school year.
The agreement also allows member states to opt out of the consortium at any time as long as they provide a written explanation of the decision to leave. A number of states, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Indiana have already pulled out, and others are debating whether to continue with the organization.
“In my mind, the N.H. Board of Education has overstepped its authority,” said Ziehm. “Unfunded mandates are illegal and just on that alone they can’t force us to take (this test.)”
Ziehm went on to question who was running Nashua’s school district.
“I think this board needs to take a stand and say this is what’s best for our kids,” she said.
While the lack of public participation and the loss of local control over school districts has been a key concern among opponents of Common Core and Smarter Balance, several members of the Nashua board focused on the effect the tests would have on students, teachers and the school district.
“I do not believe Smarter Balance is a good thing for the district,” said BOE Vice Chairman Kim Muise. “I just don’t understand testing on something you haven’t taught yet.”
Other board members expressed similar concerns.
“I don’t see what value it could be to give a test when students are just learning these things this year,” said Elizabeth Van Twuyver. “The Department of Education isn’t listening to our teachers.”
But other members of the board felt concerns about local control were standing in the way of progress the schools might make through the Smarter Balance testing.
BOE Chairman George Farrington said he was troubled by the conflicting information and the motives behind delaying the tests.
“I’m not sure what we are trying to do with this,” said Farrington. “Are we trying to prove to Concord that we have local control?”