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N.H. official tells how three states caught 'No Child' testing break

"We would never want a group of kids to go without testing."
--New Hampshire Director of Accountability Loraine Patusky

Ohanian query: Why not?

CONCORD A New Hampshire education official shed more light this morning on an agreement allowing three New England states a one-year break on federal education assessments testing.

The federal government's yardstick for measuring how the three states are educating its students, will change for one year only, from test scores to attendance and graduation rates.

This change is a result of a compromise reached between the United States Department of Education and school officials from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island. The agreement was needed because of a switch from individual state-specific testing programs to a common assessment.

In recent months, there appears to have been some sort of communication breakdown between the federal government and the states about how to transition between the two testing programs and how to continue to hold the states accountable for the education of their students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

For two and a half months, Foster's Daily Democrat has requested specific information about the process, which was only given Friday morning.

New Hampshire Director of Accountability Loraine Patusky said she has always been concerned, because there is the letter of the law and the intent and spirit of the law. Patusky said, in the end, good people took the time to read, what the states wanted to do and the issue was resolved.

Patusky said in January 2003 New Hampshire filed an assessment timeline with the federal department, which clearly said the state was moving its assessment to the fall of 2005. The federal government accepted the plan and federal dollars continued to flow. In August 2004, the accountability system was approved and a transition letter was sent.

At issue, Patusky said was for one year Adequate Yearly Progress was not going to align with the system. Representatives from the three states went down to Washington in November to discuss the situation, including other topics.

In December, the three states had a conference call to talk about the issue.

At this point, federal officials say the plan was denied. It remains unclear how the plan could be denied, if it was approved roughly two years earlier.

Patusky said the federal department clearly informed the states they could not skip a year of assessment, but she stressed the states never asked to do that.

"We agree you cannot skip a year of testing," Patusky said. "We would never want a group of kids to go without testing."

However, the new assessment system, while being given in the fall, actually tests the previous year's work, so kids will be tested. Patusky said this gives kids some more time to prepare and lets teachers apply the results to the current year's teaching.

So, if the states had tested both in the spring and fall, they would have had two sets of data for the same kids, making it impossible to show any growth.

The compromise reached between the states and the federal government was spelled out in a July memo from Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

The letter allows the states to use "the other academic indicator" to determine if their schools made adequate yearly progress, which in New Hampshire's case is graduation and attendance rates. Both the states and the federal department stress the using of "the other academic indicator" will only happen this year.

Patusky said this sort of discussion about transitioning occurs frequently, and is needed because of changes to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Patusky said this transition just seems to have attracted more attention than in previous years, likely because of the three states are involved.

United States Department of Education spokesman Elaine Quesinberry said the letter was not a response to the transition letter, but the department working with the states because they do not have the testing data. However, the three states see this as an example of flexibility.

When asked when the discussion between the states and the department began, Quesinberry said she was unsure. She was also unaware of the exact process taken to resolve the issue.

These are not new questions for the federal department. Quesinberry has been unable to provide information about the process involved with the transition since May, despite repeated attempts to gain the information.

Quesinberry is not alone is saying the plan was denied in December. The department's regional representative Micheal Sentence was also clear the phone call was a denial.

Vermont Education Commissioner Richard Cate said he considers this to be the first response to the state's plan to delay testing, which was submitted in September. Cate said the government is being flexible, by allowing the other academic indicator in Vermont's case attendance rates and reading test scores to be used. Cate said the state told the federal department what it wanted to do to transition, "they told us how to do it."

Cate stressed this will only be done for this year. Vermont, along with New Hampshire and Rhode Island, submitted a plan to switch from their respective testing programs to a common assessment, which required delaying testing from the spring to the fall.

— Jeremiah Rood and Marcus Weisgerber
Foster's Daily Democrat


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