A Consortium of public schools in New York has been a model of school improvement and student achievement through performance-based assessments and student-centered learning. The Consortium’s assessments are similar to the ones featured in New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program, where students have to demonstrate what they know through performance tasks, like a project or research paper, rather than standardized, bubble-style sheet tests.
The Consortium has been closely monitoring student growth and achievement as a result of the performance-based assessments and has found that students in these schools are more prepared for college and careers, more likely to persist in college, and have lower dropout rates in high school.
From The Washington Post:
The New York Performance Standards Consortium is an excellent example for high schools that is also relevant to elementary and middle schools. The consortium focuses on inquiry-driven, project-based learning measured by performance-based assessments — and its success with the most vulnerable students makes its outcomes particularly impressive.
The consortium is made up of 38 traditional public high schools. Thirty-six are in New York City. These follow the same admissions process as other New York City high schools that do not require entrance exams. The student populations largely mirror the city’s student body, with nearly identical shares of black and low-income youth and students with disabilities, and higher percentages of Latinos and English language learners (ELL). Students enter consortium high schools with slightly lower English Language Arts and math average scores than citywide averages.
A new report, “Redefining Assessment: Data Report on the New York Performance Standards Consortium,” shows that consortium schools significantly outperform other New York City public schools.
It found that the consortium’s dropout rate is significantly lower than that of regular New York City public schools. Four- and six-year graduation rates for all categories of students are higher than for the rest of the city. Graduation rates are roughly 50 percent greater for ELLs and students with disabilities. Eighteen months after high school graduation, the college enrollment rate is 83 percent. That’s 24 points higher than the city’s. These rates compare favorably with national data on persistence into the second year of college. The college enrollment rate for “minority males” is more than double the national average.
Central to the consortium’s success are its “proven practitioner-developed, student-focused performance assessments.” These are created by teachers and rooted in inquiry-based curricula and teaching. Students learn to investigate topics in depth and to explore their own interests within each subject.
To “demonstrate college and career readiness and to qualify for graduation,” all consortium schools require students to complete four Performance-Based Assessment Tasks (PBATs). These include an analytic literature essay, a social studies research paper, a student-designed science experiment, and high-level mathematics problems with real-world applications. They have both written and oral components. In the oral component, students respond to questions from a panel of teachers and outside experts, similar to a graduate school thesis defense.
For example, in social studies, each student must write and defend a research-based analytic paper on questions that have grown out of a history, government, or economics class. The Data Report explains that “in some cases the tasks are crafted by the teacher and in other instances by the student.” The report includes samples of the wide range of interests addressed by the students.
Avram Barlowe, who teaches history at consortium member Urban Academy, says PBATs require students to learn perseverance, how to assess and apply evidence, and explain their thinking in written and oral forms. They “demand that students learn, through practice, how to read, write, calculate, observe and research in a critical manner…”
The college persistence data show that the extensive reading, writing and long-term planning required for the performance assessments prepare students well for higher education. Consortium head and FairTest board member Ann Cook argues this evidence is far more valuable than test scores.
The consortium’s success challenges other schools and states to overhaul assessment and put educators back in control of assessment. The results give the lie to the claim that low-income youth need a tightly controlled intellectual and social environment or top-down mandates to succeed. The focus on teacher- and student-led performance assessments enables true instructional “personalization.”
The consortium is also collaborating with elementary and middle-school teachers to design new assessments. These enable close observation and documentation of student growth and support inquiry-focused education. The City’s Education Department has approved the consortium’s assessment as one of the options for schools to use when assessing preschool children.
However, an overhaul in Grades 3-8 runs into federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mandates. One path forward is for states to take advantage of ESSA’s Innovative Assessment pilot project. The pilot is based on New Hampshire’s success in transitioning from standardized tests to teacher-crafted performance tasks. FairTest’s report, “Assessment Matters,” uses New Hampshire, the consortium, and other strong examples to show how states can build a new system that ends the educational domination of standardized tests. And the consortium shows how implementing performance assessment can have great success where it most matters – for the students.
Learn more about the PACE program and performance-based assessments in New Hampshire:
- Performance Assessments and Students with Disabilities
- How teaching becomes the test in New Hampshire
- Test Drive: New Hampshire teachers build new ways to measure deeper learning
- Work Study Practices help prepare students for the future
- More at ReachingHigherNH.org/PACE