Assessment Opinion

‘Thank God’ for Competency-Based Education

By Robert Rothman — March 26, 2015 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

“Thank God for New Hampshire.”

So said Terry Holliday, commissioner of education in Kentucky, this week at a summit meeting sponsored by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning. He was referring to the Granite State’s accountability system, which recently won approval from the U.S. Department of Education.

New Hampshire’s system is a pilot, in four districts. In it, the districts will administer a statewide summative test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, in only certain grades--third (in English language arts), fourth (in mathematics), eighth (in both subjects), and eleventh (in both subjects). In the intervening grades, the state will administer extended performance tasks. In addition, districts will administer locally developed performance assessments in science in all grades.

The purpose of this effort is to support the competency-based system New Hampshire began nearly a decade ago. Educators in the state have long recognized that the assessments that measure if students can demonstrate required competencies are not included in traditional accountability metrics.

Why is this worth divine gratitude? This represents the first time since the passage of No Child Left Behind that extended performance tasks are included in accountability systems. That is a big deal. As readers of this blog know, state summative tests have tended to measure a relatively narrow range of knowledge and skills, and while new tests like Smarter Balanced are a significant step forward, they still will not measure all the competencies students need to be able to demonstrate to succeed in the future. Performance tasks can capture a broader range of competencies, like the ability to conduct research, write extended essays, and solve complex, real-world mathematics problems.

Many of the schools that writers of this blog represent already administer performance tasks, and nothing in NCLB prohibits schools from doing so. But including them in accountability means that they count. Measures of school performance will be based on these broader competencies, not just whatever state tests measure. And schools will have incentives to address those competencies and engage students in projects and extended learning opportunities.

According to New Hampshire officials, the state had to do a huge amount of work to get to this point. The officials worked with partners and a broad swath of teachers to develop performance tasks that truly measure what they intend to measure, and to ensure that they can be scored reliably and consistently. They also had to assure the U.S. Department of Education that the tasks would be comparable from district to district, and that they had a plan to evaluate the results and make adjustments if needed.

It is important to remember, though, that New Hampshire’s new system is only a small step forward; as Holliday also said, the state “pushed the envelope a little bit.” The system is a pilot only in four districts. It may expand, and other districts are interested in doing so. But for now, the pilot only affects a small number of students in relatively small districts.

Expanding the pilot will be challenging. The state needs to ensure that there are sufficient numbers of high-quality tasks and, importantly, that teachers are capable of scoring them accurately and fairly. The districts involved in the pilot had to demonstrate their readiness to do so, and not all districts are in that position.

But the fact that the state won approval to move ahead with the pilot is an encouraging sign, and there are reports that other states--notably Colorado and Iowa--are interested in following suit. They know that the current system of accountability has helped hold back a broader acceptance of performance assessment. New Hampshire might have cracked that wall.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Assessment Spotlight Spotlight on Assessment in 2021
In this Spotlight, review newest assessment scores, see how districts will catch up with their supports for disabled students, plus more.
Assessment 'Nation's Report Card' Has a New Reading Framework, After a Drawn-Out Battle Over Equity
The new framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress will guide development of the 2026 reading test.
10 min read
results 925693186 02
Assessment Opinion Q&A Collections: Assessment
Scores of educators share commentaries on the use of assessments in schools.
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Assessment Standardized Tests Could Be in Jeopardy in Wake of Biden Decisions, Experts Say
Has the Biden administration shored up statewide tests this year only to risk undermining long-term public backing for them?
6 min read
Image of a test sheet.