Standardized Testing in Schools
Both state and federal law require New Hampshire public schools to administer standardized, statewide assessment tests. Those tests are based on academic standards set by the state Board of Education.
Standardized testing is one way to measure student learning over time and compare the performance of schools. Schools with lower assessment test results may qualify for more state and federal funding.
However, standardized tests are not a perfect measure of learning, and they can constrain teachers.
Federal assessment requirements
The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires public schools to administer writing, reading, and math assessments in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11. ESSA allows students in grade 11 to take the SAT in lieu of writing, reading, and math assessments. Students must also take science assessments in grade 5, 8, 11.
Federal law does not name a specific assessment states must use, but every school within a state must use the same assessment, and that assessment must meet some minimum standards.
New Hampshire assessment requirements
In 2017 the New Hampshire Legislature revised the statewide assessment law to only require statewide assessments once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school. For the other years in grades 3 through 8, school districts must administer some other assessment of their choosing.
Since a locally-developed assessment is not allowed under ESSA, the New Hampshire Department of Education is seeking a federal waiver. Until that waiver is approved, the department advises school districts to continue using the statewide assessments every year in grade 3 through 8.
Private schools and homeschooled students may choose to participate in New Hampshire’s statewide assessment tests, but it is not required.
Parental right to opt-out of tests
In 2018 Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill which gives parents and guardians the right to opt students out of statewide assessment tests.
In previous years the federal government required that at least 95% of students participate in assessments, but ESSA allows for opt-outs if they are supported by state law.
New Hampshire assessment content
Common Core and Next Generation
New Hampshire uses statewide assessments developed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Those assessments are based on the education standards adopted by the New Hampshire Board of Education. Education standards serve as guidelines for local curriculum development.
In 2010 the Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards for mathematics and English language arts/literacy.
In 2016 the Board of Education adopted the Next Generation Science Standards for science.
Federal law also requires New Hampshire to administer an annual standardized test for all English language learners. English language learners may also be eligible for accommodations such as a bilingual dictionary during the math, language arts/literacy, and science tests.
Special education students may similarly be eligible for accommodations such as audio transcriptions or a simplified interface. Students with severe disabilities may be eligible to use a completely alternate assessment, Dynamic Learning Maps.
In recent years there has been some concern that statewide assessment tests may include questions about attitudes, values, or other subjective areas. Bills specifically prohibiting such questions have yet to pass.
In 2017 Gov. Chris Sununu did sign a law that requires consent of a parent or guardian for a student to participate in a non-academic survey, including those which might measure attitudes and beliefs. A standardized test is not a “non-academic survey,” however, so those annual tests might still include subjective questions.
New Hampshire’s statewide assessment tests are completed on and scored by a computer. Essay-style questions are scored with an algorithm.
New Hampshire assessment data
New Hampshire law limits who has access to individual student data. Teachers and school district administrators, the testing company scoring students, and a limited number of employees at the state Department of Education can see individual test results associated with a student. A parent or legal guardian can also request to see a student’s individual assessment.
Minus those select employees at the state Department of Education – who are tasked with verifying the accuracy of the standardized testing system – the state only collects and views anonymous data. In fact, state law specifically forbids the Department of Education from storing personally identifiable student information in its data warehouse.
Federal law similarly prohibits the creation of a database with personally identifiable student information. However, federal law requires states to report anonymized assessment test data.
The public can view much of this anonymized data on the New Hampshire Department of Education website. The website allows users to compare school districts and individual schools on a wide range of measures, from assessment test scores to the average cost per pupil.
New Hampshire assessment tests and school funding
If a state or school does not comply with the standardized testing requirements of ESSA, the federal government can cut off education funding. However, states can apply for a waiver for some ESSA requirements.
New Hampshire also considers assessment test results for school funding. New Hampshire school districts get about $700 more in state funding for each third grader who scores below proficient on the reading portion of the state assessment.
New Hampshire assessment alternatives
Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE)
Under a waiver from the federal Department of Education, New Hampshire has a pilot program in some school districts to cut down on traditional assessment tests. This Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) replaces all but three annual assessment tests with tasks and projects that are integrated with classwork. Those tasks are locally designed and scored by teachers.
Alternatives in other states
Other states are experimenting with alternatives to yearly standardized tests.
The New York Performance Standards Consortium has a system similar to PACE, using tasks that are integrated with the curriculum.
Louisiana has a pilot program that uses multiple shorter assessments throughout the year.
Other ideas include testing only a random sample of students or redesigning assessments as computer games.
“NH should reduce or eliminate statewide standardized testing.”
- Because schools are evaluated based on the performance of students on annual standardized tests, teachers are obliged to focus on the material that appears on standardized tests. This diminishes local control over curriculum and instruction. Local teachers, officials, and parents should guide education, not the state or federal government.
- Year-end standardized test scores do not provide teachers with meaningful feedback on how students learn and which teaching methods are most successful. The tests are not scored by teachers, and teachers have no way of knowing which lessons in a year of instruction were most successful.
- Standardized tests are a flawed measure of learning. For example, some students may grasp material but perform poorly on tests due to anxiety. There are also many studies that show white students score better than students of color on standardized tests such as the SAT.
- Standardized testing is expensive. The state spends about $3 million each year on standardized testing out of the general fund of all tax dollars. New Hampshire’s cash-strapped schools could spend that money on building repairs, special education, or any number of other improvements.
- By providing extra funding for students who perform poorly on standardized tests, the current testing system essentially rewards poor teaching.
- The student database created by the standardized testing system contains very sensitive information, from a student’s disabilities to his or her family income. Compiling this data at the state level is a threat to student privacy. While the state says their data is anonymous, it is not impossible to identify a student in the state database. The database is also vulnerable to hacking and human error. As an example, in 2015 an administrative error made the private records of some Tewksbury, MA students available online for over a week. Those records included very sensitive information, such as whether or not a child was involved with the Department of Children and Families.
- There are many other tools to evaluate students, schools, and teachers, from projects and tasks to classroom observations by experts or officials.
- New Hampshire’s statewide assessment tests are based on flawed education standards – particularly the Common Core State Standards.
“NH should not reduce or eliminated statewide standardized testing.
- While standardized tests are not a perfect measure of learning, they provide an objective measure that can be compared across all students and schools. Other measures such as projects or observations are subjective and scores can vary significantly between evaluators. Reducing or eliminating standardized tests will make it difficult to evaluate which students and schools need improvement.
- Parents, administrators, and elected officials don’t only consider standardized test scores when evaluating schools. The school profiles published on the New Hampshire Department of Education website include many measures, from the average class size to the drop-out rate. The current system of standardized testing is one useful measure among many.
- Standardized testing takes less time from teachers than other assessment methods, such as the projects in PACE. Some school districts may not have resources available to design and implement more complex assessments.
- New Hampshire has many laws protecting the privacy of student data from assessment tests. For example, those laws forbid the state from selling student data, from storing personally identifiable data, or collecting sensitive data such as religious beliefs.
- Federal law still requires assessments in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11. While the federal Department of Education may approve a waiver for some changes to standardized testing, New Hampshire must proceed carefully with any change in statewide testing. Such a change could result in a cut in federal funding. In the 2016-2017 school year, New Hampshire school districts received about 6% of their revenue from the federal government, totaling $174 million.
- There is no law requiring local school districts or teachers to follow the content covered in statewide standardized tests. Local school districts still have complete control over curriculum and instruction.