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Students across New Hampshire help assess test

New Hampshire Union Leader

May 31. 2014 7:23PM

Jackson Lepisto, a sixth-grader at St. Joseph Regional School in Keene, reads from “The Case of Secrets” during a visit from the author, Alfred Struthers of Peterborough. For the story and how it relates to Common Core, see Page A11. (Meghan Pierce)

Students at 96 schools across New Hampshire are taking part in field trials of a new assessment test, scheduled to be implemented statewide next year.

Trial runs of the Smarter Balanced test began in late March in the Granite State, and will run through Thursday, according to Scott Mantie, an administrator with the New Hampshire Department of Education's Bureau of Assessment and Accountability, who is heading up implementation of the Smarter Balanced Assessment in New Hampshire.

"Think of it as a test of the test," said Mantie, who is also an adjunct math and business professor at Plymouth State University. "None of the results from these trial runs will be used to assess student performance. The hope is the results will help us administer the actual tests next year in the most efficient manner possible."

Smarter Balanced is a federally funded organization that is developing and field-testing some of the academic tests that align with Common Core state standards.

The tests are conducted for the most part by computer, and critics say that is one of many things that make the tests unfair ­- not every child has access to a computer, either at home or school, and they would need to learn to use one to take the test. Smarter Balanced has field-tested the exams across the U.S., including in New Hampshire.

The list of 96 schools represents a wide range of communities throughout the state. Some districts feature more test schools than others. The Rochester district is tops in New Hampshire, with eight test schools. Fall Mountain is next with seven, while Nashua has six. The far northern district of Pittsburg has two schools participating.

According to Mantie, New Hampshire is part of a 26-state consortium working to develop a next-generation assessment test that incorporates Common Core State Standards. New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) tests, designed to measure New Hampshire state standards, don't meet the criteria needed to measure Common Core standards. Mantie said the test is being replaced with one that does.

With a $330 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, two groups of states have been working to develop new assessments. New Hampshire is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium; another group of states is working with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. The Smarter Balanced assessment is expected to be fully implemented by the spring of 2015 in all schools.

"Schools are testing a single grade or multiple grades in two different content areas," said Mantie. "The test is untimed, and no results are produced."

Mantie said that, after development of the test is complete, New Hampshire will spend the same amount per pupil - $22.50 - to administer the Smarter Balanced tests as it currently spends per pupil on NECAPs.

According to Mantie, parents of students in the participating schools were notified of the testing through emails or letters.

Mantie said Smarter Balanced uses a different kind of question format. Where the NECAP test used multiple choice, short answer and essay questions, Smarter Balanced uses questions that require students to operate a computer mouse to provide an answer.

Sample questions available online for the fifth-grade Smarter Balanced test include, "Connor is buying tickets to a concert. The concert he and his friends want to see costs $4.75 per ticket. Connor has $26 total. What is the greatest number of tickets Connor can buy?" That is included with traditional math questions such as, "What is 4,238 x 32?"

"There has been some frustration along the way, but the feedback has overall been positive," said Mantie. "One teacher called to say her fourth-graders asked if they could keep going with their test rather than go to recess."

Mantie said once all schools have completed the testing, a report detailing the trial runs will be generated using feedback from administrators.

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