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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lawmaker eyes NH say on standards

While New Hampshire moves forward with a set a national academic standards, a Litchfield state representative wants to make sure legislators get a say in approving the new standards.

New Hampshire is one of 43 states, along with Washington D.C., to sign on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort led by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

States have agreed to adopt a uniform set of math and English language arts standards, to nationalize what students should know at a minimum by each grade level.

The state Board of Education voted in July to adopt the standards in principle, but Litchfield Republican Ralph Boehm questions whether it had the authority.

Boehm, vice chairman of the House education committee, is the primary sponsor of HB39, which would require the state Legislature to approve adopting standards.

“It comes down to local control and unfunded mandates,” Boehm said. “It’s causing local districts to spend money on learning what the common core is, and it’s also going to cost additional money for new books and stuff like that.”

Further, Boehm said, it’s not clear whether the new standards would be an improvement in the quality of education.

“When has the federal Department of Education done anything to better education?” Boehm said. “Since that department was created under the Carter administration, education compared to the rest of the world has gotten worse.”

The Common Core Standards is a state-led initiative and participation is voluntary. Although the U.S. Department of Education didn’t play a direct role in developing the standards, the Obama administration encouraged states to sign on and has made funding available to help states develop new assessments.

Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather said the process of reviewing the standards with educators around the state is ongoing. A series of statewide informational sessions on the English standards were held at the end of last year. A similar set of sessions on changes to math are being held this month, including one scheduled at Nashua High School South for today .

“There are multiple meetings going on around the state with higher education officials, business groups and educators. People are still looking at them very closely,” Leather said.

He did not comment about Boehm’s assertion that the Department of Education did not have authority to move forward with adopting the standards.

Leather said he is confident that the new standards would not lead to any reduction in the quality of education.

“The level of rigor is comparable to our current standards,” Leather said. “There are a number of folks who feel they are clearer and more understandable to educators.”

Boehm’s proposed legislation would have an impact beyond the Common Core Standards. The bill would also remove several academic subjects from the definition of an adequate education, including arts, world languages, health and technology education. Boehm said these are subjects schools are likely to provide anyway, but shouldn’t be required.

“We don’t need the state telling us what is an adequate education. Let’s let local districts decide,” Boehm said, adding a hearing has not yet been scheduled on the bill.

At least one study indicated the new common standards would be an improvement for New Hampshire. Last year, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed each state’s education standards and gave New Hampshire a C and a D in English language arts and math, respectively. The study named New Hampshire as one of 33 states for which the Common Core Standards would be an improvement in both subject areas.

Leather said the state is taking the process one step at a time. The focus now is on working with educators across the state to go over the differences in the two sets of standards, he said.

The meeting at South today will focus only on math. Among the issues to do be discussed will be moving from the New England Common Assessment Program standards to the Common Core Standards.

Implementation is expected to take several years, with the 2014-15 school year expected to be the first with New Hampshire using a new assessment aligned to the Common Core Standards. Like New Hampshire, most states that have adopted the standards said full implementation will take several years, according to a survey released last week by the Center on Education Policy.

The confidential survey of education officials from states that have adopted the standards found that most states plan major changes to assessments, curriculum materials, professional development and teacher evaluation as part the transition. However, the process will not be completed until 2013 at the earliest, most states reported.

Nashua Superintendent Mark Conrad said there’s been little impact in the district since the state moved forward with adopting the new standards. That will likely change in the coming years, as the district prepares for whatever changes come from the transition.

“Over time, I see us holding back on purchases of new text books until it’s clearer where the Common Core is going,” he said.

Conrad said that while it remains to be seen how the new standards compare to New Hampshire’s current standards, he agrees with the idea of having a single set of national standards.

“For me, it comes down to understanding that being college- and career-ready doesn’t differ, whether you’re in New Hampshire or California,” he said. “It’s a natural recognition of an international economy.”

Michael Brindley can be reached at 594-6426 or mbrindley@nashuatelegraph.com.