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First year PACE results are in: what do they mean for the future of assessment?

The Department of Education recently released the results of the first Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) program. It was piloted in four districts as the first-of-its-kind approach to locally-developed, competency-based assessment, where teachers and administrators from each of the four districts worked together to design multi-step assignments that allow students to demonstrate their competency in ways that go beyond the standard “bubble test.”

PACE has been recognized across the nation as a a new assessment strategy that can be a better indicator of real learning and reduce the reliance on standardized testing.  A key question the PACE pilot must answer, however, is whether locally developed assessments can really be used to compare districts or states.

Now that the data is in, state officials have found that the results are similar to Granite State students’ performance on the Smarter Balanced Assessment–meaning that yes, based on the first year results, so far it looks as if personalized, competency-based assessments can be valid measures of student performance as well as to compare schools’ results on a statewide basis.  The second year of the pilot program, the 2015/16 school year will provide important further insight into the comparability question but, in the meantime, here is a comparison of this year’s results, in charts prepared by Dr. Scott Marion, consultant to NHDOE and executive director of the Center for Assessment in Dover, NH:

PACE math results

PACE ELA results

The results show that there is not a significant difference between the overall achievement levels as measured by PACE  and by Smarter Balanced.  There are differences–different districts have different strengths, challenges, and demographics–but overall, the results lend validity to the PACE assessment model.  In other words, based on New Hampshire’s first year experience, locally managed assessments performed systematically by the students’ own teachers can be relied upon as part of a statewide accountability system.

Though the results show significant room for improvement, especially in math, they are reassuring for the districts and for New Hampshire. They show that one-size-fits-all bubble tests are not the only way to assess student performance, and that we can rely on our teachers for better ways to measure student competency that encourages deeper learning and more engaged students.

Find the full PACE results here.

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