Educators, parents weigh in on changes to state education requirements
The State Board of Education heard from teachers, employers, school board members and parents yesterday during a public hearing in Concord on changes to the state’s minimum standards, which outline what programs schools must offer in order to receive state funds.
Some wanted more high school math. Others said they worry about state and federal overreach. A teacher hopes to keep family and consumer science classes off the chopping block.
“It’s good to see the public weighing in with their ideas, that’s always a good thing, cause if you take that, you can get a better product,” said David Ruff, executive director for the Great Schools Partnership and adviser to the committee that has worked on the standards for nearly a year.
The standards are updated periodically through a process that includes the state board, Department of Education and legislators. The biggest change this time is a complete shift from credit- to competency-based education, which measures subject knowledge rather than time spent in the classroom. Under a credit system, passing with a C doesn’t show the student understands all of the material. In a competency-based system, a student can’t pass until they show mastery of each piece of material. The changes also include more room for “extended learning opportunities,” which allow students to meet graduation requirements outside of the classroom, such as earning a math requirement through an engineering internship.
As written now, the standards also propose dropping the requirement that all high schools offer family and consumer science courses, such as nutrition and child development, something those teachers have vigorously opposed. The board is also considering increasing math requirements from three to four years, a move supported by math teachers and employers in engineering, manufacturing and technology.
Common Core Standards
Several speakers yesterday linked changes in the rules to the new Common Core State Standards, adopted in 2010 by New Hampshire and nearly all 50 states, which are a more rigorous set of math and English standards. New Hampshire developed its own new standards to align with that model, called college- and career-ready standards. When local districts design competency-based graduation requirements, they will have to align with the new standards. A statewide test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment will also debut in 2015 to measure whether students are hitting the standards. The new test and standards are meant to make education more consistent within and across states.
The minimum standards rules do not specifically address Smarter Balanced, which will be taken on computers, but a few speakers shared concerns about the test with the board.
Krista Argiropolis, a mother and school board member from Alton, worried that the new test would place unintended costs on districts. The elementary school in Alton was built more than 50 years ago and doesn’t have the wireless capacity or technology to support a computer test, she said. She also questioned whether past investments the district has made in textbooks and math programs would hold up under the new standards.
“I want to understand this, I applaud New Hampshire Department of Education for trying to make the improvements that they’re making, but I’m concerned about some of the cost impacts we’re going to see in our districts,” Argiropolis said.
Doris Hohensee, chairwoman of New Hampshire Families for Education, asked the board to add a provision in the rules allowing districts to opt out of the new tests. She was also one of several speakers to challenge a new part of rules laying out requirements for school psychologists. She feared the provision would allow school psychologists to unfairly gather data on students without parent involvement.
“This is a nightmare in the making,” she said.
But Tom Raffio, state board chairman, and Nate Jones, a representative from the New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists, said the state is not creating a mandate for all districts to hire psychologists. Rather, the standards lay out expectations for districts that already employ psychologists. School psychologists already involve parents in the decision-making process as much as possible, Jones said. The rule also doesn’t stipulate that all children would be required to see a school psychologist.
Changes in subjects
Beyond broad concerns over the intent of the bill, changes in specific school subjects were addressed. One thing that is not included in the standards right now but is gaining traction is requiring high school students to take four years of math rather than three. State Sen. Molly Kelly, a Keene Democrat, addressed the board in favor of this, as did representatives from the governor’s Advanced Manufacturing Educational Advisory Council.
Engaging students in math for all four years ensures better retention and will likely decrease the number of students who needs to take remedial math courses when they get to college, advocates say. It will also better prepare students for jobs in advanced manufacturing and other jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.
“I cannot stress enough that math for four years has got to be a requirement going forward to maintain our global competitiveness,” said Victor Kissel, a member of the governor’s Advanced Manufacturing Educational Advisory Council.
The possible addition of a math requirement, however, has meant the potential elimination of family and consumer science requirements. All high schools are currently required to offer three credits worth of those classes. Students are not required to take the courses, and the board has proposed eliminating the mandate that districts must offer them.
‘The death sentence’
Kay Shoubash, president of the New Hampshire Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, has advocated to maintain the three-credit requirement. She worries that if the requirement goes away, these courses will be the first on the chopping block when budgets get tight. Many of these courses provide valuable life skills to students that they may not get at home, she said.
“I’m really afraid it’s the death sentence for family and consumer science at the high school levels,” she said.
The board also heard from Steve Roberts of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, who requested an increase in science requirements from two credits to three, and from Ursula Askins-Huber of the state Association of World Language Teachers, who highlighted the importance of language in high school education.
The board will hold a public hearing in Lincoln on Sept. 9 and can accept written comments until Sept. 13. Members of the public can make comments through an online survey offered on the Department of Education’s website. It can be found at the “Ed 306 Review” link under the Legislation/Hearings/Rulings tab.