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A Peek Inside New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment Pilot – Education Week

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New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment for Competency Education (PACE) program is closely followed throughout the country as a demonstration of how schools can reduce their use of once-a-year standardized assessments and move toward integrated classroom assessments – “performance assessments” – that contribute to learning while providing feedback on each student’s progress.

Here’s an interview with a PACE teacher who gives a clear view of how it all works.  Jennifer Poon, Innovation Lab Network Director at the Council of Chief State School Officers, talks with Souhegan High School biology teacher Jenny Deenik.  Here are some key points:

Jenny is a biology teacher and Critical Friends Group coach at Souhegan High School, where she has taught for 18 years. In July, she was recognized by President Obama as a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

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“We want our students to graduate with a core set of competencies such as Effective Communication, Complex Thinking, Skilled Information Processing, Collaboration, and Self Direction, to name a few.  As a member of a four-person teaching team, we share a grading system where students are assessed based on these “competencies” and are then asked to reflect on their growth as learners. In my classroom, I am constantly highlighting the skills that students are using in their daily learning activities. We might stop in mid-activity to analyze the skill that is currently being used… Now, as a school and as a state, we are shifting to a different form of competencies that are more formally linked to a school-wide grading and state-wide accountability format, which will inevitably create greater equity for all students across the school and the state.

“I consider performance-based tasks the next step in the evolutionary process of assessment, one that values what students and teachers do as part of their everyday work in the classroom. Students want what they do to be valued and to matter. When classroom learning is authentic and rich and engaging, kids do their best work. We all know that standardized testing is a hard sell. Students prefer performance-based assessment over standardized testing because they are richer, more engaging, and more informative. The students prefer the performance-based assessments even though they realize that they take more time and are more challenging. The fact that our educational and accountability system is catching up and supporting the everyday work of students and teachers, means that students are being measured in a personalized setting and based on work they care about.

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“As a school we have embraced performance based assessments because…we can … create more challenging curriculum…. In addition, we are so much more informed about our students and their learning progress by these tasks. The student work… is much more accessible than standardized test data…. Because the student work is real-time data from real tasks, I have to do less translating then I would have had to do when using data from standardized testing…. Data from one task in November absolutely informs my practice and my student’s learning immediately going forward in my curriculum planning.

“[The PACE project is challenging because we]…are building the airplane in flight. As one of the early adopters in the state, our school is helping develop the process for a state-wide accountability system that incorporates performance assessments. So the work we are doing with other districts is highly collaborative. With that comes messiness, very tight timelines, and time-consuming conversations….

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“It is so important that we regain some balance in students’ lives between teaching and learning and assessing. When I think of a child’s life in school between grade 3 and 12 and how much time is spent testing, and how little of that investment pays off in directly helping them become better learners, I see performance assessment as a way for students to gain back some precious learning time. When students work on a performance assessment, the learning doesn’t stop. They are learning through the task. Assessment shouldn’t stop the learning process; it should be part of it. I am also encouraged to think that when students leave school, they will have a much better sense of themselves as learners, not just performers. Competency-based education keeps the skills and concepts in front of students where it matters – their transcript. My hope is that they will see “Creativity,” for instance, on their transcript and know that it is valued in school, in college, in the workplace, in life. Who remembers their GPA from sophomore year? Probably a few. But when our students reflect on their abilities as complex thinkers and knowledgeable people, they have a much better sense of themselves than a percentage shows. That’s always my hope. This is also the reward obviously of participating in PACE–having students know themselves well and having teachers understand them as a whole rather than a mere vessel of discrete facts.

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“Any work with performance assessment and competency education has to reflect a school’s core values and beliefs about how kids learn best. It has to build on classroom practices that value personalization, student engagement, deep and rigorous learning, authentic tasks. It is a big shift to go from pencil-and-paper multiple-choice tests at the end of every unit to a valid performance task that asks students to demonstrate important skills and concepts in complex and authentic ways. It requires a commitment both from teachers and administrators. Teachers need to commit to collaborate on sharing curriculum, developing assessments, and scoring and analyzing student work together. But districts and administrators need to provide the structures that allow teachers time to collaborate, and the training and support for teachers to lead the work themselves and see the successes.”

Read the whole post here: A Peek Inside New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment Pilot – Learning Deeply – Education Week


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