Please note: This article was corrected on September 6th to accurately reflect the findings on PACE.
According to the presentation by Susan Lyons of the Center for Assessment to the New Hampshire State Board of Education, early evidence is showing improvements in the PACE districts in the Smarter Balanced assessments over the past two years. The mean of students demonstrating proficiency in PACE districts has increased from 48 to 63 on the 8th grade ELA and from 35 to 48 on the 8th grade math. The PACE districts are inching above the state mean. Another researcher, Carla Evans, is seeing significant improvement for students with disabilities in PACE districts compared with non-PACE districts. Evans’s research, based on early results, is showing that students with IEPs in PACE districts are significantly outperforming their peers with IEPs in non-PACE districts on the SBAC assessment in both math and ELA. Despite these gains, achievement gaps between students with IEPs and students without IEPs are still apparent in the PACE districts.
Lyons believes that two elements of the PACE theory of action are driving the changes:
- implementing the performance assessments as intended enhances and extends desired instructional practices; and,
- student engagement and student learning increases/deepens when performance assessments are implemented as intended.
Notice the language of implementing performance assessments as intended: PACE is focused on ensuring high quality implementation of performance assessments. It is a partnership of the state and local districts to commit to high quality instruction and assessments for the children of New Hampshire.
We’ve all become so accustomed to state systems of assessments that are designed to compare apples with apples and make student outcomes transparent (with the idea that by making them transparent, school performance will improve). The problem is that those state assessments have been used to blame and shame schools, and are not actually designed to directly help improve student learning. Thus, we’ve gotten used to assessments being something other than part of the cycle of learning.
In New Hampshire, state leadership has wanted to return assessment to where it rightly belongs. With PACE, New Hampshire is building an assessment system that is integrated with what happens inside classrooms (not the state house). The PACE initiative introduces a new cohort of districts each year, building teacher capacity around performance-based assessment, and calibrates a shared understanding of what it means to be proficient at the higher levels of Webb’s taxonomy of depth of knowledge.
To ensure high quality implementation, the New Hampshire Department of Education is now reviewing one major assessment per competency for each PACE course in all of the participating districts and working with Stanford University to review all local performance assessments. Going forward, New Hampshire will continue to evaluate student achievement of PACE districts and begin to longitudinally track trends in career and college readiness (e.g., persistence in college). They are also interested in research to more deeply understand the connection between learning and engagement in complex performance assessments.