Flexible Accountability Systems are a Growth Opportunity — for Teachers and Students

Educators Ashley Millerd (left) and Julia Ryan (right).

Educators Ashley Millerd (left) and Julia Ryan (right).

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.


  1. Next generation accountability systems should provide greater transparency on multiple measures of student learning. They should celebrate growth, calculate how quickly the achievement gap is being closed, show in real time where students or subgroups of students need supports and interventions, and pinpoint the resources needed to ensure student success.

  2. An effective accountability system ensures improvement in the system of learning for the students and teachers. Because every system and person those who work under government sector will be accountable to authority. The use of powers at the right time for the right purpose also bring change in the environment.

  3. This is a very informative article. But by extension, and to help aspiring students of all kinds succeed in life, wouldn’t students who are considering attending college be better served if for-profit schools run by Education Management Corporation and the University of Phoenix, among others, were not almost solely propped-up by the Department of Education through Title IV and Pell Grant funding?
    Wasn’t the Corinthian debacle enough of a wake-up call?
    To wit:
    collegecorecard.edu.gov informs us that many of these schools are very expensive compared to public and community colleges, have extremely low graduation and retetion rates and are constantly in financial dire straights- -all of which the majority of the attending hapless students are perilously not aware of.
    If the goal is to democratize higher education, then measurably underperforming post secondary schools across the board must be encouraged to tow the line and live or die by strictly instituted minimum DoED performance metrics. This I don’t see. And unfortunately, deferring this vital issue to accrediting organizations has historically proven to be non-existent or of dubious effectiveness at best.
    Accordingly, the Department of Education should not be manipulated by these corporations with their tacit threats to shutter their doors and strand their students if taxpayer backed student loans are no longer available to them. In common parlance this is called blackmail and not worthy of any entity that purports to have the best interests of students in mind.
    I believe many people who will be and who have been adversely affected by these corporations would be overwhelmingly appreciative if a substantive briefing in this forum was given so as to better understand where the DoED stands on these issues. Thank You.

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