I attended a very interesting meeting at Sanborn Regional High School last week. School district leadership from Sanborn (Kingston/Newton), Epping, Souhegan (Amherst and Mont Vernon) and Rochester were planning their joint efforts on a project called PACE – Performance Assessment for Competency Education. (Here’s a description.) Their goal is to create personalized student assessments that will reduce the heavy reliance on the statewide annual assessments.
This is a pretty big assignment. Really, it couldn’t be bigger. Ever since No Child Left Behind delivered a body blow to American education in 2002 by requiring teachers to scramble for test scores, federal law has required that every child in grades 3-8 and one high school grade be given a single statewide assessment every year. At this point, the U.S. Department of Education has allowed most states, including New Hampshire, to waive the requirement that every school report “Adequate Yearly Progress.” But the testing itself still must be done.
The New Hampshire Department of Education Commissioner Virginia Barry has said that she would support a system that replaces some of the state assessments with locally managed assessments if the U.S. Department of Education agrees. They haven’t agreed yet, but by designing assessments integrated with competency-based projects all year long, the four PACE districts, funded by the Nellie Mae foundation, are figuring out how that would work.
According to Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather,
The PACE project will show that we can transform our schools, in part, by changing how we do accountability. We would like to rely less on Smarter Balanced and more on a rich array of assessments that help measure learning and growth for students, teachers, and schools.
We would rather see an assessment system include Smarter Balanced every other year and rely on these locally administered performance assessments on the alternate years. We believe that this kind of system will allow us to measure a more complete range of knowledge, skills, and practices our students will need to prepare for college and their careers.
We think we can get students more engaged with increasing the academic challenge we give them. We want to involve students and teachers deeply in complex projects and performance, the foundation of competency education. Educators who have seen the power of this model first hand – like those of the four PACE districts – become passionate in this work.
New Hampshire leads the nation in learning how to personalize learning for every one of our students. And the PACE districts are leading New Hampshire in making personalized learning work in their classrooms. But at the same time they are taking on the hard work of creating the next generation of assessments to go with that – assessments that will help students improve their learning and teachers improve their teaching.
The work these New Hampshire school districts are doing is important for the State and the country. We will be following it closely.