New Hampshire’s PACE option: Building a better accountability model
Monday, December 01, 2014
In October, Education Week's Alyson Klein asked the question, "Will New Hampshire be Arne Duncan's 'test case' for Accountability 2.0?" Klein noted that Secretary of Education Duncan has hinted for some time that he would like to reduce the number of standardized assessments that students take.
In New Hampshire, a model that includes the use of both standardized assessments and competency-based performance assessments has piqued the interest of Duncan and his staff in Washington. New Hampshire's test case model is known as PACE, which stands for Performance Assessments of Competency Education.
In a recent Competency Works blog article, New Hampshire's Deputy Commissioner of Education Paul Leather wrote this about PACE:
"We are moving forward this year with a demonstration project, to prove that we can advance the transformation of our public education system, in part, by changing our accountability model. We would like to lessen the importance of taking simply the summative Smarter Balanced in the spring of 2015 by establishing a richer array of assessments designed to help us with measuring learning and growth for students, teachers and schools. We would rather see an assessment system include SBAC at grade spans, as well as complex performance assessments."
In New Hampshire, four school districts who have been embracing competency-based learning have been working with Leather on the PACE proposal. Competency-based learning is a philosophy that curriculum, instruction and assessment are tied to specific indicators that rate a student's ability to transfer content and skills in/across content areas.
A school that makes a shift from traditional to competency-based learning often goes through a significant redesign process that drastically challenges the way teachers compute grades and the way that students are provided with instruction in the classroom.
A hallmark of the competency education model is the notion of performance assessments. According to the Center for Collaborative Education, these are "multistep assignments with clear criteria, expectations and processes that measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills to create or refine an original product."
Competency-based learning schools make use of performance assessments on a regular basis because these assessments help students to apply their knowledge in the context of new settings or problems and provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate transfer in an authentic task.
Competency-based learning has risen in popularity around the country in the last decade, but the prospect of the model allowing for a better accountability system has the potential to catapult this idea into one of the most popular educational reform initiatives that our generation has seen.
At last month's International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) Symposium in Palm Springs California, nearly 3,000 school administrators from around the country heard Leather say that the PACE option has received a lot of attention and support from Washington D.C., and it was likely that Duncan would approve the pilot for testing as early as this spring for the four New Hampshire districts.
As a high school principal in one of those lucky districts, I am excited to be a small part of some work that has the potential to revolutionize the way we think about measuring the success of our schools for years to come.
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