PACE: proving individualized assessments are just as good as standardized tests at comparing district and student performance


States like New Hampshire that are incorporating competency-based education into their classrooms may wonder: how do we move from the traditional standardized test to a performance-based assessment model while keeping the assessments comparable across districts? But Jennifer Davis Poon of the Council of Chief State School Officers, says that comparability does not necessarily mean equivalent, and various assessment methods can be highly effective in showing student outcomes. The PACE program, which reduces the number of standardized tests students take, is working to prove that the model can be a valid method of assessment.

Performance assessments inherently differ from classroom to classroom, and even from student to student, but that doesn’t mean they can’t demonstrate mastery of content, says Poon:

The basic idea is this: even if two assessment systems (such as a performance-based system and a standardized assessment system) are not equivalent or interchangeable, if they each can be shown to predict a certain set of outcomes, then they can be said to be comparable… In the testing world, even though two assessment systems may be different, if each is designed to demonstrate a similar outcome (say, “college and career readiness”) and each can be shown to predict that outcome (say, college performance as measured by college course grades) with similar precision, we can be confident that comparisons between the two assessments are trustworthy.

Districts participating in the PACE program are at the forefront of this movement and accomplish the goal by tying district-led assessments to the Smarter Balanced assessment used in other districts in order to show proficiency:

New Hampshire is in the midst of a multi-year quality review process through which they hope to demonstrate the validity and comparability of their pilot assessment system. Participating pilot districts will anchor judgments of “proficiency” to the Smarter Balanced achievement level descriptors (ALDs), and will participate in a common standard-setting process to compare student work. They will also participate in a peer-review process during the first two years of implementation in order to examine system design and performance assessment results, and to provide technical assistance to districts where needed.

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