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New statewide achievement test scores suggests 44 percent of NH graduates not college- or career-ready

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 12. 2015 1:45PM

CONCORD — Results of a statewide standardized test linked to the controversial Common Core education standards were released Thursday and, as predicted, they are considerably lower than the average scores from the standardized test previously used by New Hampshire and the five other New England states.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment replaced the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) in English and math for students in grades three through eight and grade 11, despite protests in Manchester and Nashua motivated by opposition to Common Core and the nature of the new test.

Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry said Smarter Balanced is a different test and that any comparison to NECAP scores is like comparing apples to oranges.

Many students who were rated proficient or better via their NECAP scores were later found to be in need of remedial classes to succeed in college or careers, Barry said, calling the Smarter Balanced results a more accurate reflection of student readiness for success.

“This information is honest and it’s saying something very different from the former assessment,” she said at a Tuesday press conference at the Department of Education. “The old assessment said, ‘Here is a number.’ This one says 44 percent of our students are not college- and career-ready.”

Unlike the NECAP test, with its traditional “pencil-in the bubble,” multiple-choice format, the Smarter Balanced test is taken on a computer, dynamically adapts to the skill of the test-taker and involves more narrative and problem-solving exercises.

Below is a package of information from the tests, including the statewide results, key points from the Department of Education, and family guides to the results.

► Click here to visit the New Hampshire Department of Education Smarter Balanced Assessment Portal.

Bucking the test

The Manchester school board bucked an effort by Mayor Ted Gatsas to block the test completely. In the end, Smarter Balanced was administered in the state’s two largest cities in the spring, but hundreds of students in Manchester and Nashua, particularly in grade 11, didn’t take the test at the request of their parents.

State officials recently announced that the SAT will replace the Smarter Balanced test for high school juniors and the state will assume the cost, largely in response to protests and a low, 83 percent participation rate for 11th graders, driven mostly by the two largest cities.

Despite the protests about the Common Core program from parents motivated by privacy concerns, the content of the test and the role of the federal government in the testing program, about 95 percent of students statewide were tested.

The statewide average for all grades tested showed that 58 percent of students who took the Smarter Balanced test were at or above achievement level in English, compared to 77 percent rated proficient or better in the last round of NECAP testing.

In math, the statewide average for Better Balanced testing was 46 percent at or above achievement level. The last round of NECAP testing showed 66 percent of New Hampshire students scoring proficient or better in math.

Good rank nationally

New Hampshire students as a whole scored above the national averages on a field test of the Smarter Balanced assessment administered to 4.2 million students from 21 states in the spring of 2014, and also did well on the recently released National Assessment of Education Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, when compared to other states.

While the results released Thursday are lower than the NECAP tests, they are consistent with the Nation’s Report Card results for New Hampshire.

“The NAEP results have been considered a yardstick for the whole country to understand on a rational basis what our progress is over time,” said state Board of Education member Bill Duncan. “If you compare our NAEP results to these Smarter Balanced results, you’ll see they come out pretty close to each other, and that lends credibility to both.”

The Smarter Balanced scores vary widely from school to school and district to district. The state’s three largest cities scored below the state averages, while some of its more affluent communities did better than average.

Wide range of results

The Manchester School District had one of the lowest participation rates, with only 80 percent of students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment, compared to a statewide average of 95 percent. Of the Manchester students who took the test, 34 percent scored at achievement level or better in English and 28 percent in math.

Results in Nashua (English, 50 percent; math 40 percent) and Concord (English 50 percent; math 44 percent) were also below the state average.

School districts scoring above the state average included Bedford, (English 73 percent; math 70 percent); Hanover (English 76 percent; math 68 percent); and Windham (English 74 percent; math 64 percent).

In some districts, the difference in the English and math scores was significant, such as the Souhegan district, which includes the towns of Amherst and Mont Vernon. It averaged 73 percent at achievement level or better in English, and 44 percent in math.

Comissioner Barry said the math results come as no surprise, and have been a problem for years.

“This is not new news,” she said. “Mathematics is a priority area for our state, and our teachers are going to need professional development to get the results we want moving forward.”

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