Mom and school board member Pam Wicks tells SBOE about her son’s PACE experience: “He could not stop talking about this solar cooker”

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Pam Wicks has experienced New Hampshire’s innovative Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) initiative as both a mom and a Concord School Board member.  She told the April 6, 2017 meeting of the New Hampshire state board of education yesterday what she thought.  (Video of Pam’s presentation is here)

Excited to see PACE in action

Good Morning,  My name is Pam Wicks, I am a mother to 3 boys who attend the public schools here in Concord and I currently serve on the School Board, here in Concord.  However, for the purpose of this public comment, I’ll be wearing my “mom” hat.  I first heard about PACE at a backyard BBQ at my friend Brian’s house.  He’s the principal at Sanborn High School and we chat often about the exciting work he’s doing there.  At the time, my oldest son was heading into 3rd grade, and would be participating in his first year of standardized assessments.  After listening to Brian explain PACE to me, I remember thinking how great it would be if Concord could get in on that action!  No one likes the idea of standardized testing, but as a necessary tool for accountability, it has to be done.  So if it has to be done, then wouldn’t it be great to be in a school district that used an assessment that tested based on the actual learning that was going on in the schools, and not what some bureaucrat in a stuffy corporate office thought my kid should know?  I bet you can imagine my excitement when last year, I read in the school district newsletter, that Concord was going to be joining the pilot program!

Solar cooker excitement

I want to share with you a story about why I believe in PACE and why I believe that this is the direction we should be moving in for all school districts across the state.  Last May, my son, a 4th grader at the time, came home from school and burst through the door; “Mom!”, he said.  “I need a pizza box, duct tape and some aluminum foil, it’s for my science test, we’re going to be building a solar cooker and I want to practice”.  Now, I had recently attended a PTA meeting where the school principal had talked about the upcoming PACE assessments, so I knew that when he said “science test” he meant his PACE assessment.  The fact that he didn’t even realize the solar cooker was a statewide assessment is not only a testament to the school, for not making a big deal about the testing, but a testament to PACE itself.  He wasn’t just sitting in front of a computer for 2 hours plugging in answers to mundane questions.  He was going to have to build something using and applying what he had learned in his unit on energy. It was fun and hands on – certainly more engaging than answering questions on a piece of paper.  With PACE there is an appreciation for what they are learning and the process of showing it.  You do not see that with the old, Smarter Balanced assessments.  With the PACE assessment, students have to solve a problem, come up with a plan, execute that plan and then defend what they did.  

On the day of the assessment, my son went to school, ready and excited.  He was not stressed out, he was not worried, and he was not filled with a sense of dread.  Instead he was eager to get to work!  He came home each day bursting with pride over the work he was doing.  He could not stop talking about this solar cooker.  At dinner he discussed with us some of the materials he was choosing, what he thought was going to work and mistakes he had to fix after realizing his plan had a flaw.  He spoke with a confidence that I had not seen in him before.  He was proud of his work and himself!  Let me remind you that this is all in reference to a “standardized test”.   He wasn’t filling in bubbles – he was generating a hypothesis, creating a test, and then modifying his work to make it better; you know, doing “science”.  How many kids do you know that come home this excited and engaged in regards to Smarter Balanced or PARCC testing?

Real learning, no teaching to the test

We hear all the time that we need to “stop teaching to the test” and that standardized testing is holding teachers back from their potential to teach in an engaging way.  Well I believe that PACE is how we change that!  PACE puts teachers in the driver’s seat. They are implementing and creating the engaging curriculum and assessments; collaborating with teachers all across the state, and making a test to get the kids to demonstrate what they are teaching.  Isn’t that what we all want from our public school educators?  The assessments and rubrics are clear and align with the actual learning that goes on in the classroom.  Teachers and students will know exactly where their strengths are and where they need work.  As a parent and as a school board member I know that is what I want to see.  There is a positive change happening in our classrooms; we’re seeing students engaged in meaningful learning, giving all students a greater opportunity to reach their potential.  I believe that PACE, along with competency based education, will help our students gain 21st century skills, that will guide them on their path to life after high school.  

Thank you for your time and this opportunity to share my story and experience with PACE in our schools.