When our students sit down for state-required assessments, we don’t worry about whether we prepared them. After all, we helped create the tests ourselves.
Our district is one of a small cohort piloting New Hampshire’s Performance Assessment Competency Education assessment system, a first-in-the-nation accountability strategy that replaces some standardized testing with locally managed assessments. As part of this program, we work together with our colleagues across the state to develop, implement, and evaluate performance assessments that measure a student’s mastery of concepts and skills and better connect to what our students are learning.
We assess student progress in a hands-on, project-based manner. For example, in our ninth grade English classes, our students were asked to defend a peace treaty they had created in their Global Studies class that would solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. They wrote argumentative letters to the United Nations explaining why their treaty was the best solution to the crisis. Fifty miles away in Rochester, geometry students are asked to take on the role of town planner, designing two potential water towers and writing a letter to the town recommending one of them. Instead of standardized tests driving the curriculum, our curriculum drives our assessments.
Working with teachers across the state to develop PACE assessments has helped us grow as classroom teachers. We have regular opportunities to share experiences, combine resources, and learn from colleagues across the state. As a result, our assessments reflect the same expectations for all students across New Hampshire, while still being individualized for the specific teacher or student involved. For our upcoming performance task, the essential question is the same in every PACE district, but the texts and teaching methods leading up to the assessment can be adjusted to best fit each class’s curriculum and each student’s abilities and needs. We also get to control at what point within the school year the assessment is given, which allows us to integrate it into the unit in which it best fits. This way, the PACE performance assessment acts as a snapshot — one data-point of many — that allows us to gauge our students’ progress and to continually adjust throughout their time in the district.
We look forward to developing assessments with our Grade 9 ELA colleagues. Every time we do, we leave with more ideas about how to better meet our students’ needs and interests in our own classrooms. Our collaboration has extended beyond the assessments and found its way into our day-to-day teaching. Now, our curriculum is more aligned and we can be more confident that students across New Hampshire are receiving the same high-quality education, regardless of their district or teacher.
Coming from backgrounds in more traditional education, some of the innovative work going on at Sanborn Regional High School seemed intimidating at first. However, after seeing and experiencing the results, we can say that the hard work of creating and implementing PACE has been rewarding — for both teachers and students.
Ashley Millerd and Julia Ryan are English teachers at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, New Hampshire.