NH Sets the National PACE With New Accountability Strategy



To test or not to test? That seems to be the question these days when it comes to state-run standardized testing that is used to hold schools, teachers, and students accountable. Most educators agree that this accountability is necessary, but when faced with countless hours of lost instructional time to administer tests that seem to have little or no direct correlation to the work that is happening in the classroom, many are left to wonder whether or not the over-testing should continue.

In New Hampshire, the question was never whether or not to take a standardized test. Rather, the Granite State set out to build a better mousetrap. Late last week, The United States Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education Deb Delisle announced in a letter to New Hampshire Commissioner of Education Dr. Virginia M. Barry that four school districts in New Hampshire would be granted a waiver to move forward with an innovative pilot known officially as the Performance Assessment of Competency Education model, or PACE, for short. Many in the educational community have already come to recognize that PACE has the potential to completely revolutionize school accountability strategies across the country.

According to an Education Week article released last week, New Hampshire’s request is months if not years in the making. New Hampshire has long been considered a leader in a national movement towards competency education, a model that emphasizes a high level of academic rigor and measures student learning as their ability to transfer content and skills in and across content areas. The pilot attempts to blend a variety of accountability tools in different grade levels. New Hampshire’s Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather explained that these pilot districts would use the same Smarter Balanced Consortium tests that the rest of the state is using but not at all grade levels. Instead, some grade levels would administer locally developed performance-based tasks and exams that have been vetted through a rigorous review process with outside assessment experts.

Last week in a press release, New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan acknowledged that her state “is nationally recognized as a leader in competency-based education, and the approval of this pilot project further demonstrates our status as an innovator in public education. I applaud our four pilot school districts and the New Hampshire Department of Education for their hard work to develop this pilot program, and I look forward to it paving the way for other school districts to implement it in the future.”

Sanborn Regional School District Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian J Blake, commenting on why he made the bold move to make his schools one of the four PACE pilot districts, stated that “As the leading PACE district, Sanborn Regional believes this is the right work at the right time. PACE allows us to build rigorous assessments into everyday student learning rather than making the assessments an isolated, special event with no immediate results. We believe our own assessments, as a part of the PACE Pilot, will meet State and Federal accountability requirements. The confidence that the State of New Hampshire has in our teachers has made us stronger and allowed us to prepare for this work.”

This past weekend, in a Christian Science Monitor article on PACE, Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation’s research fellow Julia Freeland acknowledged that PACE “fits into a much bigger conversation about how we can create a humane assessment system that’s useful to teachers but also useful to states and the federal government for holding schools accountable,” As a high school principal in one of the PACE districts, I was quoted later in that same article as saying “Our teachers are ecstatic about the idea that somebody’s finally listening to what they’ve been saying all along: Don’t measure me or my school on a test that’s disconnected from what happens in the classroom.”

Based on the calls and inquiries that I and my fellow Sanborn administrators get on a regular basis on our competency education work and how it can be replicated in other schools, I am convinced that New Hampshire’s pilot may just be the start of a new way to measure student learning and school accountability.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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