In the new PACE assessments, students must prove they can apply concepts rather than just memorizing facts

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Souheghan High School, Spaulding High School in Rochester, and Concord High School all have something in common–they’ve moved to competency-based performance assessments. The Concord Monitor reported on the new approach to assessing student learning, highlighting some of the great work that’s going on in Jenny Deenik’s high school science class (Deenik has been a champion for competency-based education, speaking out in support of her and the state’s innovative work. Find her interview with Ed Week here).

Deenik gave her students the background knowledge in a few past classes; then, she took a step back and let the students teach each other.

Presentations are an important part of learning and teaching at Souhegan, which has been using a competency-based learning model since the school opened in 1992. Due to a state law passed in 2008 requiring competencies, the rest of the New Hampshire schools are beginning to trend that way, too.

Competencies, simply put, are a set of learning goals and standards for students to accomplish. For Deenik’s science class, it could mean learning how cells in the human body respirate to produce energy. In an art class, it could mean learning basic art concepts such as color, lines and depth, and making sure those concepts are reflected when students build a clay sculpture or sketch a pencil drawing.

Student proficiency is measured through a performance-based assessment, which could be a presentation, essay or test. But the biggest difference between the old learning system and the new is that students must show they really know concepts and can apply them to everyday life.

So what exactly are performance-based assessments? Kathy White, Souhegan’s dean of faculty, explains:

Student proficiency is measured through a performance-based assessment, which could be a presentation, essay or test. But the biggest difference between the old learning system and the new is that students must show they really know concepts and can apply them to everyday life…  Instead of giving kids letter grades on tests and essays and averaging it all out to a final grade at the end of the year, some schools are also changing their grading systems, basing grades on whether students can successfully demonstrate what they know.

Performance assessments will take the place of all the old standardized tests. Rather than teaching to the testing material, it’s a way to get students back to learning key concepts, said Kathy White, Souhegan’s dean of faculty.

 “What it means is a much more authentic, rigorous meaningful assessment tool,” White said.

The approach is part of a statewide movement toward competency-based education, where students are given learning goals and must prove that they have met them before moving on to the next one. The three schools are also part of the state’s pilot PACE program, which replaces the statewide standardized tests required in third through eighth grades with  locally developed assessments. The state is gaining nationwide recognition for its emphasis on local control, both in the competencies and in the assessments:

“The local district leaders convinced him they were capable to do this with their teachers,” said state Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather. “This is the district saying, ‘We want to do this.’ It’s based on a local decision.”

Read the entire article here.