New Hampshire’s innovative assessment, known as PACE (Performance Assessment of Competency Education), has inspired Louisiana and Puerto Rico to pursue alternative testing methods to gauge student learning.
The new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), allows states to create different ways to measure student learning and progress instead of the statewide standardized test (New Hampshire uses the Smarter Balanced Assessment). New Hampshire has been piloting PACE in a number of schools since 2015, and has submitted an application to continue the program. From The 74 Million:
So far, Louisiana, New Hampshire, and Puerto Rico have submitted applications to the U.S. Department of Education to participate in the pilot — and they offer radically different approaches to measuring student outcomes.
Under the Louisiana plan, students would be assessed on the content they’ve covered in the classroom, rather than “content agnostic” passages selected at random. And instead of completing one big assessment, students would be tested several times throughout the course of the school year so educators can gauge progress in real time. The pilot would launch with high schools during the 2019–20 school year, and elementary school students would be brought into the fold in subsequent years.
Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute education think tank, is among the education pundits cheering on the work in Louisiana. He called the Louisiana plan an “assessment holy grail.” Under the current testing system, he said in an interview, a weak understanding of content knowledge is perceived as poor reading skills. “In many places I suspect the problem is just a simple lack of background knowledge, not a reading issue at all,” he said.
It comes with little surprise New Hampshire has opted to participate in the pilot. In fact, education officials there take credit for inspiring the federal innovative assessment initiative in the first place. For the past several years, New Hampshire officials have been working to scale up a “competency-based” approach they call the Performance Assessment of Competency Education.
In 2015, federal officials awarded New Hampshire a waiver from the previous federal education law, No Child Left Behind, in order to pilot a competency-based model. Under that framework, students are required to demonstrate proficiency on a given topic before moving forward on the next task. The system, state officials explain in their application, allows educators to judge student growth based on outcomes rather than inputs like time spent in a class.
“We know that student performance on a single end-of-year achievement test may not be indicative of actual learning and mastery of academic competencies,” Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire’s education commissioner, said in a media release. In contrast, the competency-based system offers students multiple opportunities to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Moreover, the application argues, once-per-year assessments fail to support a diverse student population.
In Puerto Rico, officials are implementing a new, sweeping education reform law as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria and a crippling financial crisis…
Keleher said the assessment pilot provides an opportunity to test out alternative assessments that would “allow us to more quickly and more effectively adjust our instruction to the child’s needs.”
The Puerto Rico plan would implement a computer adaptive test in 120 campuses that have historically performed at the bottom 15 percent of schools on standardized tests. Often, Puerto Rican officials argue in their application, students and educators in low-performing schools see standardized tests as a punishment, rather than as an instrument to measure growth and implement improvement strategies. A testing mechanism that adjusts to match student competencies would allow students greater opportunities to apply their obtained knowledge. Puerto Rico plans to implement its tech-driven testing system in the 2018–19 school year.