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October 21. 2013 9:40PM

Manchester would need waiver to replace Common Core educational standard

MANCHESTER — Manchester public schools would need a waiver to replace the Common Core assessment test with the district’s version or risk losing state or federal education funds — and a waiver is hardly a sure thing, an official with the New Hampshire Department of Education says.

The Smarter Balanced test will be required in 2015 as part of the Common Core standards. Manchester officials say they will consider administering a different assessment test.

When asked if a district could secure a waiver so that it would not lose funding, Education Department Chief of Staff Heather Gage said that would require further review.

“To my knowledge we have no precedents for a district not participating in the statewide assessment so more research would need to be done to answer this question,” said Gage, who’s also director of instruction, in an e-mail late last week.

Manchester’s school board last week voted to develop its own Manchester academic standards after months of debate over national standards called Common Core.

Gage said funding isn’t at risk if districts don’t adopt all of the Common Core standards.

Mayor Ted Gatsas, who chairs the city school board, said Education Commissioner Virginia Barry told him a few weeks ago that a waiver would protect state and federal funds, which together make up more than a third of the school district’s budget.

“I’m not concerned about any of that testing,” Gatsas said. “If we create the best standards in the state, Manchester academic standards — we’re three days into this discussion — if we develop the best ones and other communities are following us, I’m sure the state of New Hampshire can find other tests we can use because we have the best standards around.”

School Superintendent Debra Livingston said she hopes the district next fall can start using new academic standards that incorporate some of the Common Core standards, which call for certain topic areas to be taught at particular grade levels. The standards cover math and English language arts/literacy.

How much of Common Core is included is “going to depend largely on teacher input of course and depend largely on classes or courses that were not addressed by Common Core,” Livingston said.

Starting this school year, teachers were using some Common Core standards in a pilot program for grades kindergarten through eight.

“We can set our sights very high on what our standard would be,” Livingston said.

The school board’s move won positive reviews from Ann Marie Banfield, an education liaison with Cornerstone Action, the lobbying arm of a conservative advocacy organization.

She also said state officials should allow for districts to adopt alternative assessment tests without the fear of losing funds.

“If Manchester says no to Common Core, why should they be forced to use a Common Core test?” Banfield said. “If they risk losing money, we have a serious problem in the state if they don’t have control over their schools.”

Starting in spring 2015, about 100,000 students in grades 3 through 8 as well as 11 could be asked to take the Smarter Balanced tests that incorporate the Common Core standards.

“As far as the assessment side of things, we do need to take time to study this in depth and be knowledgeable,” Livingston said.


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