Student Assessments (HB 166, 2017)

By Ann Marie Banfield, Cornerstone’s Education Liaison

Cornerstone opposes HB166.

While I like the intentions of HB166, it does not go far enough. There is no reference to the validity of the local assessments that would replace the statewide assessment and there are no ethical boundaries that we desperately need to govern the psychometric testing. Neither is there a provision for opting out of these assessments if parents agree they do not want their children to take them.

As I stated in previous testimony on HB275, none of the Common Core assessments composed by SBAC, PARCC or AIR meet the ethical standards and requirements of validity as described by multiple ethics organizations governing clinical & school psychologists. In the private sector of academic and psychological testing, a failure to follow ethics in testing would result in a civil lawsuit and the loss of licensure. (See APA Code of Ethics link below)

None of the testing policies have peer-reviewed science backing in the field of pediatric clinical psychology.

Current law under 193-C does require the state assessment to be valid and objective, but it does not specify that it should be done using empirical studies that demonstrate the tests actually had the predictive capability they claim. It might be a good time to ask our current Commissioner for the predictive validity studies are on the Smarter Balanced, PACE and SAT. The predictive validity study done in Massachusetts showed that the PARCC was not a valid measure of “college and career readiness.” (https://www.mathematica-mpr.com/our-publications-and-findings/publications/predictive-validity-of-mcas-and-parcc-comparing-10th-grade-mcas-tests-to-parcc-integrated-math-ii)

According to the Valerie Strauss from the Washington Post, “the more correct conclusion is that standardized tests can predict scores on other standardized tests (which this report confirms) but it cannot validly predict college readiness at any meaningful level.” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/05/27/alice-in-parccland-does-validity-study-really-prove-the-common-core-test-is-valid/?utm_term=.a3b9cf2af8ff )

There are no ethical guidelines for those administering psychometric assessments. There should be guidelines and if not followed, the consequences should be similar to those working the the pediatric field of child psychology.

HB166 does not address funding. Currently schools use the standardized assessment provided, with no cost to the school district. With budget constraints, and to really give local control to the community, all things must be equal. If the state assessment is free to the school and a local alternative is a large budget item, there is a dis-incentive to use an alternative.

How do schools make comparisons to other districts in NH or in other states? Wasn’t that the selling point of the Smarter Balanced Assessment by the Department of Education? One of the advantages to achievement testing (versus psychometric assessments) is so parents can determine how well their children mastered the academic content in comparison to students across the country. It would be helpful, to add language so that achievement tests would be an acceptable alternative.

ESSA language on assessments is lengthy and any autonomy legislators would like to give to local school districts is severely restricted. ESSA also requires the state to develop plans that must be approved by the U.S. Secretary of Education. This leaves all decisions ultimately to the Federal Government. (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/index.html)
The State has an obligation to demonstrate that the State Educational Agency (SEA) consulted with local educational agencies to implement high quality academic assessments. However the ultimate authority in this case would be the U.S. Secretary of Education. They are the final arbitrator on whether or not they will distribute funding based on what the state provided in those plans.

In other words, if local schools in New Hampshire were to choose a local assessment that didn’t meet the approval of the U.S. Secretary of Education, our federal funding could be at risk. (*1 see below)

Within those guidelines there is also a reference to the type of testing that will be allowed. In other words, schools that want to test for academic knowledge using achievement testing might not be approved. (*2 see below)

ESSA requires assessments to be developed to the extent practicable using the principles of universal design for learning. (UDL) I saw that as a significant restriction on the kinds of tests schools could use. (*3 see below)

UDL measures “higher order thinking skills and while that may sound good, the practice may be one parents or even school administrators want to avoid. ( http://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/05/19/udl-personalized-939/ )

Higher-order thinking skills have little to do with factual or academic knowledge. These assessments will measure, in a subjective way, skills such as critical, logical, reflective, metacognitive, and creative thinking. These are now embedded in computerized programs that map and analyze a child’s brain function.

I’m still wondering how the current assessments meet the requirements in RSA 193-C on objectivity in scoring. It sure appears to me that these federally approved assessments in use in New Hampshire already violate state law. Where are the assurances that local assessments will be objectively scored?

According to the language in ESSA they expect assessments to measure a student’s non-cognitive dispositions, attributes and mindsets. The focus on academic knowledge becomes secondary to these so-called higher order-thinking skills. ( http://childrenthinkingskills.blogspot.com/p/high-order-of-thinking-skills.html )

This is exactly what many parents do not want schools measuring on a “standardized test.” This is also often cited as a complaint by parents due to the subjective nature when measuring their child’s values or attitudes.

There is a requirement for assessing higher order thinking skills and communication skills that could be problematic if school administrators opt for an achievement test. However, assuming that these skills would be applied in answering academic based content, that could be enough to go forward.( https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/essaassessmentfactsheet1207.pdf )

If the goal is to empower local schools, this Bill must go much further. If we are truly giving this authority to local districts, it needs to be spelled out. That is something I could support.

There must be language that includes achievement tests. There are achievement tests that are objectively scored, validated, and test academic knowledge. That is very different from what the Federal Government seems to be prescribing.

Local tests or assessments must also be funded which could mean simply shifting funds from the assessments in use to achievement tests. All of this can be done through state statute if that is the goal.

Wakefield, NH elevated their local academic standards and began using the old Massachusetts standards a few years ago. If they are truly free to use a test of academic knowledge versus an assessment of dispositions and attitudes, this language must be clear and the funding available.

The State Department of Education can also provide direction to schools that they support the use of achievement tests or any other measurement tool. So far, they have been fully committed to the psychometric testing.

Legislation should not be passed in order to give an appearance but must be authentic if there is a commitment to restore local control in testing. We cannot say to schools you have the ability to choose your own test but then tie their hands behind their back.

For these reasons I urge you to vote Inexpedient to Legislate on HB166 or amend the language to give real autonomy to local schools in New Hampshire.

References:
1) ESSA Panel Hammers Out New Testing Regulations
http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/27/essa-panel-hammers-out-new-testing-regulations.html?qs=ESSA+testing+regulations#comments
https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/account/saa.html
https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-education-department-releases-proposed-regulations-encourage-better-and-fairer-tests-reduce-burden-testing
2) American Psychiatric Association Code of Ethics in assessing children: https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/practice/ethics
Informed Consent 3.2.4: Psychiatrists should recognize the importance of informed consent for assessment or treatment as an essential means to recognition of and respect for the patient’s autonomy and personhood. Informed consent is an ongoing process that involves disclosing information important to the patient and/or decision-maker, ensuring the patient/decision-maker has the capacity to make treatment decisions, and avoiding coercive influences……
3) https://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/essa/essaassessmentfactsheet1207.pdf
4) LINK TO ESSA: https://deutsch29.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/essa-final-version.pdf
(*1) ((7) FAILURE TO MEET REQUIREMENTS. – If a State fails to meet any of the requirements of this section, the Secretary may withhold funds for State administration under this part until the Secretary determines that the State has fulfilled those requirements. See ESSA link below)
(*2) ACADEMIC ASSESSMENTS —
“(A) IN GENERAL . —Each State plan shall demonstrate the the State educational agency, in consultation with local educational agencies, has implemented a set of high-quality student academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science. This State retains the right to implement such assessments in any other subject chosen by the State.
(B) REQUIREMENTS — The Assessments under subparagraph (A) shall —
(i) except as provided in subparagraph (D) be—
“(I) the same academic assessments used to measure achievement of all public elementary school and secondary school students in the State; and
(II) administered to all public elementary school and secondary school students in the State;
(ii) be aligned with the challenging State academic standards, and provide coherent and timely information about student attainment of such standards and whether the student is performing at the student’s grade level.;
(iii) be used for purposes for which such assessments are valid and reliable, consistent with relevant nationally recognized professional and technical testing……
(*3) “(xiii) be developed, to the extent practicable, using the principles of universal design for learning. ……