The Concord Monitor featured a great piece on New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program, which allows districts to come together to design their own assessments to replace standardized tests. Here’s an excerpt:
Together with a handful of superintendents, state education officials pitched a plan to create a system of locally-designed assessments to replace the standardized tests furnished by testing companies. The [PACE] assessments would be aligned with the state’s standards, created in-state by teachers, ask students to problem-solve instead of regurgitate information – and be rigorous enough to be used for federal accountability purposes…
PACE hopes to build off of the state’s work in competency education, an approach to teaching that, at its core, is about proving students understand a subject before moving on. In a competency-based system, students aren’t supposed to be able to use things like homework completion or participation grades to get them over the passing mark if they don’t understand a topic.
“In a competency-based system, it is laser-focused on what kids know and can do. They can either demonstrate it or they can’t,” said Michael Turmelle, the curriculum director at the Sanborn Regional School District. “What you’ve done is raised the bar significantly.”
At its best, competency-based education gives students problems to solve, and gives them a certain degree of flexibility in demonstrating their knowledge.
How does that work in practice? Here’s what a “common task” or assessment, for graphing and analyzing algebraic inequalities in PACE looks like:
The manager of the Hampton Beach Casino has a band coming in. It’s up to the student to figure out what combination of ticket sales – seats or standing – will generate the most profit, given certain constraints.
“I think students always ask the question: when am I ever going to use this? And what PACE does is say – okay, you had to learn this skill, because here’s an example of a real-world problem,” said Joanne McCann, a math teacher in Epping…
Rochester assistant superintendent Kyle Repucci has seen PACE in action from the beginning. And if asking students to take a more hands-on, problem-solving approach improves learning, he thinks asking the same of teachers – who are building the system themselves from the groundup – has dramatically improved instruction, too.
“It’s probably some of the best professional development that I have seen for teachers in my years of experience as an educator. Because it’s teachers working with teachers on problems of practice that they’re interested in,” he said. “Teachers are driving the bus. And I think that’s probably the difference in this initiative.”
Early data also show that PACE programs could benefit special education students. In a study by UNH doctoral candidate Carla Evans, special education students outperformed their peers in non-PACE districts, and did basically as well as students not in special education programs. “What we might be seeing is an artifact of meeting students where they are at,” Evans said. Learn more about PACE here.