Several districts in New Hampshire have been replacing annual standardized tests with project-based assessments that are embedded into regular classroom activities and support deeper learning.
The program is called the Performance Assessment of Competency Education (PACE) and it has inspired other states to pursue alternatives to typical standardized tests under the new federal education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
From Education Dive:
Since the program was announced as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), interest in and discussions of how to plan and best use performance assessment has increased, and other states are looking to New Hampshire for guidance on how to create, validate and spread teacher-designed assessments across multiple districts.
“We’re just creating fantastic assessments in classrooms that make sense for kids,” says Ellen Hume-Howard, the executive director of the New Hampshire Learning Initiative and the former curriculum director of the Sanborn Regional School District, one of four original PACE districts covered by the waiver. “We were out there proving it, collecting the data and giving some credibility to this approach.”
“We’re not against testing,” Hume-Howard says. “We are happy to embed standardized testing, but let’s make it make educational sense.” Third grade, for example, when students are making that “reading-to-learn” transition is a good time for a “standardized measure,” she says. Eighth grade, before students transition into high school is another logical point, she says.
While performance assessments are not new, interest in using them as a replacement for standardized, multiple-choice tests has increased, in part because state tests “played an outsized role in schools” under No Child Left Behind, Robert Rothman, a senior editor at the National Center on Education and the Economy, and Scott Marion, the executive director of the Dover, NH-based National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, wrote in a 2016 Kappan article. Alternative or performance assessments, they wrote, “could support student learning, rather than detract from it, as critics charge current state tests do.”
“In most states, end-of-year activity is assuming that we know nothing about these kids,” he says.
In addition to New Hampshire, officials from Arizona, Hawaii and Louisiana have said they plan to submit an application for the ESSA pilot program. But districts in several other states are also exploring how performance assessments might be integrated into their testing systems.
“We’ve been doing this since 1998, and we’ve had a lot of success with students once they go on to college,” Ann Cook, the co-director of Urban Academy Laboratory High School in New York City and the executive director of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, said during the webinar. “They have a lot of academic skills, as well as the ability to ask for help, to know how to get help, and how to use it.”
First, those that already have professional learning communities, in which teachers regularly collaborate and plan together “definitely have an advantage,” she says. In addition, teachers had to be willing “to give up some things that they thought were getting the job done” in assessing students.
“Kids don’t realize they are taking any kind of test,” she says, adding that parents are also supportive. “I don’t think I’ve met a parent who wants their kid to do standardized testing. They don’t see a lot of return on it.”