LACONIA – It was likely Travis Haynes's first time attending a School Board meeting, but on April 7 he told the full board that his children would not be taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Tests.
Haynes said that in his opinion the Smarter Balanced Tests are "subjective" and are leading students down the wrong road.
"Essentially, local control is being lost to the federal government," he said.
While Haynes sentiments regarding Smarter Balanced Tests and the Common Core standards recently adopted by a vast majority of the state's school districts are widely held, his views are somewhat uncommon in the immediate Lakes Region.
According to Laconia Assistant Superintendent Kirk Beitler, only two parents have refused to allow their children to take the Smarter Balanced exams that were given at the elementary level recently and will be given in middle and high school this year.
Administrators in the Shaker Regional School District, the Gilford School District and the Inter-Lakes School District said there have been no parents who have refused to allow their children to take the tests.
When asked why, Laconia Superintendent Terri Forsten said she believes it's because her school district has been preparing its students and their parents for the Smarter Balanced test for quite a while.
"In fact, for those testing days, we had almost 100 percent attendance, "Forsten said.
She said when she first became superintendent two years ago she held "many, many curriculum nights" where parents were invited and Common Core and Smarter Balanced tests were explained by the administration and the teachers.
"Unless you are brand new to the district, parents have been expecting it," she said.
Gilford Curriculum Director Tracy Bricchi told her School Board this month that she feels the testing that has gone on so far has worked well.
One of the things Gilford School District did to prepare for the Smarter Balanced tests was to appoint a computer-based testing coordinator for every school.
"Our teachers spent a lot of time preparing for them," she said, adding that the Middle School coordinator spent at least 55 hours on prep time. "Our teachers are very grateful."
Bricchi said Gilford's students actually liked the tests. She said some liked the English and some liked the math, but generally she was impressed with the students who went first.
Speaking as a curriculum director, she said getting the grades back before the end of the summer is also going to be a huge benefit.
"(They are) so much better than NECAPs" she said, whose tests were given in the fall and whose results never came until the school year was nearly over.
Gilford School Board Chair Karen Thurston wanted to know if too much time was being spent preparing children for the test and not enough time was being spent in the classroom.
In response, High School Principal Peter Sawyer said "blocks will be missed to take the test."
Next year he said he wants a different testing schedule, saying delayed testing can work at the high school but he doesn't think it's good for the elementary students. He said coordinating tests for the SATs, Smarter Balanced, and advanced placement are around the same time, which can be overwhelming to many.
"Hopefully, next year the kinks will be worked out," he said, adding that the N.H. Department of Education has been very helpful.
Sawyer also said he thinks there could be some problems coordinating the Smarter Balanced test and the Huot Technical Center schedule.
While he didn't speak about the Huot Center in particular, Beitler said scheduling this first year has had its challenges but overall he thinks it will work out well.
Beitler had the same concerns as Sawyer regarding advanced placement testing and Smarter Balanced Testing, plus the NECAP test for science and the SATs. "It's a lot," he said.
"We can't let testing interrupt instruction," said Beitler who said he is looking for the best balance possible.
In fact four school districts – Sanford, Rochester, Sanborn, and Souhegan - have been singled out to pilot a test program this year under which the number of grades that take the test will be cut in half. Smarter Balanced will still be given once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school said Ellen Hume-Howard of the Sanford School District during an interview on the "The Exchange" – a daily Public Radio show.
Beitler and Sawyer said they are waiting for the pilot program to finish so they can evaluate the results and see if it's appropriate for their schools.
But until the pilot is complete or unless the state trots out a different program, Smarter Balanced Testing his here to stay.
As for offering an alternative test to those students whose parent object to Smarter Balanced, the Department of Education said on its Webpage that it does not have the authority to offer school districts to "opt out" nor do individual school districts have the authority to offer a different performance-based test in lieu of Smarter Balanced.
"In addition, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires all district that accept federal funds under this Act to implement the statewide assessment in order the continue the receipt of funds," reads the DOE "Talking Points" available on its Website.
And that's probably not the answer Haynes was hoping to get.
He said his son spent a "whole week" practicing for the Smarter Balanced Test and a second week studying for it. He said he considering home-schooling for his children.
"I hope in the future we look at curriculum. I want to empower our schools and not the federal government," he said.
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