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Nashua board to discuss delaying Common Core tests


NASHUA — A proposal to delay the Common Core high-stakes assessment tests and reconsider other aspects of the educational reform movement is on the agenda for special Board of Education meeting scheduled for next Monday, Nov. 18.

David Murotake, chairman of the BOE's Curriculum and Evaluation Committee, is calling for a two-year delay in launching the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balance Assessment Tests that will replace the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program tests in the spring of 2015. Smarter Balance will test student progress according to the Common Core math and English language standards that define what students are expected to know at each grade level. The standards were adopted by the state Department of Education in 2010.

Murotake, who is also a state representative for Nashua, is expected to file a bill in the next legislative session calling for a state-wide moratorium on assessment tests. Other representatives are planning to file bills that would examine or limit certain parts of Common Core, and Lenette Peterson (R-Merrimack) has a bill in the works calling for New Hampshire to end its participation in the reform program.

Murotake said his resolution for a two-year delay in Nashua mirrors calls from the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, two of the largest teachers unions, to delay the new assessment tests and give schools more time to adjust to the standard and curriculum changes. Part of the Common Core Initiative's emphasis on assessment and accountability calls for using test scores as part of a teacher's evaluation.According to a national survey of teachers conducted by Hart Research Associates, 75 percent of those polled said they liked the standards but felt that hadn't had enough time or professional training to successfully prepare kids for the first round of Smarter Balance Assessment tests.

"Three quarters of teachers do not feel they are ready," said Murotake. "When I talk to Nashua teachers, they are in full agreement with that survey."

Even some of Common Core's staunchest advocates, such as U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have acknowledged the fast-paced reforms could lead to unintended results such as plummeting test scores.

"There are a lot of people worried about early deployment," said Murotake. "Everyone seems to be rushing it, and it could endanger the whole reform movement."

Murotake's resolution also calls for the formation of a study group to investigate the types of personal student information that will be collected through the assessment tests and the intended uses of that data.

There have been conflicting reports on Smarter Balance data mining and the potential to exploit student information for commercial uses. A local study group could sort through conflicting claims and determine how any of those reports may affect students in Nashua.Nashua has a strong and vocal group of parents and residents who are concerned about the loss of local control, agenda-driven textbooks and materials, and the cost of Common Core. Murotake is looking at ways to address those concerns and the possibility of using the Common Core standards as best practices rather than the state's required minimum standards.He said he doesn't know whether the two-hour meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in the lecture hall at Nashua High School North, will lead to vote by board members or more plans for public meetings on Common Core.

"The public can come and hear the resolution and discuss it," he said, adding that the board members are particularly interested in hearing from Nashua parents. "We need due diligence from the state, the district, local schools boards and the public."

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