Pull Out of Smarter Balanced Consortium: HB 1432 (2014)

To Members of the House Education Committee:

Cornerstone Action does not support HB 1432 as written.

We request that you move to amend HB 1432, to pull New Hampshire out of the Smarter Balanced Consortium and seek an alternative test.   There are achievement tests that have been in existence for many years that do not have the issues we are seeing with the new Smarter Balanced Assessments.

One of the big problems schools face with the adaptive tests is the required technology.  While the tests are certainly a money-maker for the technology vendors, in the Politico article Common Core testing problems seem inevitable, the Senior VP at McGraw-Hill publishers acknowledged that there will be bumps in the first couple of years.

Because of the technology problems, one Indiana charter school reported that the errors they received resulted in an “F” grade from the state.

The Model Teacher Evaluation policy that was developed by the New Hampshire Department of Education suggests that part of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to “student progress.”   If technology problems are leading to grading schools incorrectly, how can we put teachers in this vulnerable position?

Students will have a 12-week window in which to take the tests. The students at the end of that window will have three additional months of schooling before they take the test given to the students at the beginning of the 12-week period, giving some students an advantage over others.  This also presents a problem for security if the test questions are the same throughout the 12 weeks.

What about schools that are developing higher and better standards for their students?  Why should their students be evaluated on Common Core-aligned assessments?

Dr. W. Stephen Wilson

Guest Post: SBAC Math Specifications Don’t Add Up

Dr. Wilson is Professor of Mathematics and Education at Johns Hopkins University, and he was lead math analyst for Fordham’s 2010 report, The State of State Standards and the Common Core in 2010 Wilson has participated in numerous projects on standards, curricula, and textbooks. He received his Ph.D. in mathematics from M.I.T. and has published over sixty mathematics research papers in the field of algebraic topology.

Review of the SBAC Math Content Draft

The conceptualization of mathematical understanding on which SBAC will base its assessments is deeply flawed. The consortium focuses on the Mathematical Practices of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) at the expense of content, and they outline plans to assess communication skills that have nothing to do with mathematical understanding. In addition, they will be unable to provide student-level data for critical procedural skills, instead providing data only at the classroom or school level……

Ultimately, the actual assessments will tell us all what SBAC thinks is important. This Draft does not give good guidance for curriculum developers because content is an afterthought. It appears that the assessments will focus on communication skills and Mathematical Practices over content knowledge. As such, there is little to be optimistic about.

I reached out to Prof. Wilson to see if there was any improvement to the SBAC since the article is a few years old. His update: “The leadership and general philosophy of SBAC was way off track, but I also believe that the states that signed on to them have forced them to be more reasonable….I am not optimistic any way I look.”

The assessment was flawed from the beginning. While there seems to be a slight improvement, Prof. Wilson made it clear he is not optimistic, based on what the assessment measures today.

His focus is on shining a light on the problem of grade inflation we are seeing in public education. I agree that grade inflation is a problem that needs to be addressed; however, that should be done using a fair test that gives us honest feedback on math computation skills.

Summarizing comments made during an interview I conducted with Prof. James Milgram on The Smarter Balanced Assessment, he said the SBAC sample math questions looked frightfully similar to the questions that were on the old tests used in California based on the old 1992 CA Standards.  Those old California Standards were based on the 1989 NCTM standards.  He said, we are going to see parents up in arms and it wont take long before they realize their children are being “harmed”.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYzUB8I7_5w 1:19:00

What they did in California did not work, and it’s one of the reasons Dr. Milgram became involved in developing new California standards that were considered to be the best in the U.S.

The 1989 NCTM Standards, have been highly criticized for being one of the primary sources for the downfall in math education in America.   Professor Cliff Mass at the University of Washington gives objective evidence that shows the decline in math literacy among the K-12 students based on the NCTM fuzzy math programs that started showing up in classrooms across America.

http://mathwizards.wordpress.com/2008/06/11/math-education-a-university-view/ (youtube video by Cliff Mass on the NCTM)
http://www.atmos.washington.edu/cliff/Cliff%20Mass.htm Biography of Cliff Mass

Have the teachers in New Hampshire vetted the Smarter Balanced Assessment?  Are they comfortable with their evaluations based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment? If you look at the feedback we are getting from the Nashua school district, I think it’s safe to assume that last answer is NO.

The Federal Government is illegally funding the Smarter Balanced Consortium, and has given about $175 Million to the Smarter Balanced Consortium to develop assessments and instructional modules.  This violates a Federal Statute that prohibits creation of national assessments and violates Federal laws that prohibit the Federal Government from developing curriculum.  The Smarter Balanced Consortium is developing curriculum too. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/20/7909

The Federal Government was involved in the “item design” of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.   This means there is federal oversight of the actual questions on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is also based on a failed system Kentucky used years ago (KIRIS and CATS). Kentucky cited the inability to score subjective items and inefficiency as some of the problems.   The “Kentucky Experiment” was abandoned later as a failure.

Now we have Smarter Balanced trying this proven failure in California and Kentucky all over again.

You heard from some parents last week that their children are being asked to solve math problems that are confusing even to MBA Harvard Grads.

The Facebook page called “Inappropriate Common Core Lessons” has daily posts by parents who are uploading pictures of assignments their children are bringing home.  It’s easy to see the problems with the Common Core Standards and what will be assessed, by scrolling through that page.

There is nothing good about trick math questions.  There is nothing good about asking a child to struggle in math.  Yet that’s exactly what the Assistant Superintendent in Manchester said several months ago when he was presenting Common Core to the School Board.  My response to him was, that kind of approach to teaching math kills the love of learning and sends children directly to math tutoring centers.

Based on my research of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, I can say I have NO confidence in what our teachers will be evaluated on and what our children will be assessed on.

For these reasons, we ask that you amend the legislation to pull out of the Smarter Balanced Consortium.  Unless you fully support this kind of assessment in our schools with which to evaluate our teachers, it is important that you take action immediately.


Ann Marie Banfield for Cornerstone Action