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Almost 200 decline Smarter Balanced test in Manchester

By TED SIEFER and MARK HAYWARD
New Hampshire Union Leader

March 19. 2015 8:40PM


MANCHESTER — The parents and guardians of nearly 200 city students have refused to let them take the Smarter Balanced assessment test, only one week after the district sent out letters indicating they had the right to do so.

School principals have received 196 refusal requests, a district official said Thursday. The number represents a fraction of the thousands of students who have taken Smarter Balanced or are scheduled to do so in the coming weeks, but it is a substantial amount considering the testing period only began this week.

Meanwhile, school officials responded to complaints from some parents that the principal of Memorial High School pressured students to take Smarter Balanced and made it harder than necessary for parents to pull their kids from the test.

Superintendent Debra Livingston acknowledged on Thursday the need to correct Memorial Principal Arthur Adamakos, a veteran school leader. Adamakos told three sets of parents who emailed him that he would need a written, hard-copy letter asking that their child not participate in Smarter Balanced.

Adamakos suggested specific language, and he said the students’ absence would count against the school’s participation rate. However, Livingston said that Smarter Balanced — unlike the previous NECAP assessments — does not hold schools to a participation rate.

“In speaking to Arthur this morning, we have reiterated there is no minimum threshold for participation in this assessment and to exclude that sentence from any further communication regarding refusals,” Livingston wrote in a memo to school board members.

Livingston said Adamakos wanted a hard copy to ensure that parents were actually communicating with him.

However, the letter approved by the school board explicitly states that email is an acceptable way to make the refusal request.

Adamakos was emphatic that he had not challenged the three students whose parents opted to pull them out of the tests, Livingston said.

Some parents also raised concerns about inducements Adamakos offered at an assembly before the test was given. Memorial students who participate in Smarter Balanced can qualify for a raffle for a gift card, which is funded through the school’s activity account.

Although several people have questioned the practice, it has been going on since 2002, Livingston said.

Livingston said the district spent about $7,000 on headphones, which are needed to take some portions of the test. A student returns the headphones after they are used, the student’s name is attached to the headphones, and they will be available for future tests.

Meanwhile, Livingston said she will speak to principals about a years-long practice that allowed students to skip finals if they scored proficient or better in the assessment tests.

“We may want to make changes,” Livingston said.

She said she was unfamiliar with the practice and couldn’t address specifics, such as how a final could be waived in previous years.

NECAP tests were taken in the fall and tested material a student learned the previous year. The Smarter Balanced, which is taken in the spring, tests material presented in the current school year.

The issues at Memorial are the second flare-up in the city with Smarter Balanced, which the school board only voted to implement last month. On Monday, three Manchester schools gave students a practice test instead of the actual assessment test, and said the students will have to retake the test.

The multi-day tests started this week in Manchester at some schools. Livingston said Manchester is staggering the tests among city schools, and all tests won’t be completed until April.

“I think it went well,” Livingston said about the testing. “Certainly, we always look for things to go perfectly, but everyone came together and did what had to be done.”

tsiefer@unionleader.com; mhayward@unionleader.com


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