Opinion
Assessment Opinion

The Real World

By Ronald A. Wolk — December 22, 2006 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Ronald A. Wolk

Shortly after this school year began, top policymakers from seven states met for two days in New Hampshire to discuss whether performance-based assessment can be a powerful enough lever to change the way high schools are organized and operated.

Along with Rhode Island, New Hampshire is instituting competency-based assessment systems that link content to skills and use multiple measures—not just a statewide standardized test—to evaluate students’ proficiency.

Students still have to take and pass courses, but the courses are being redesigned to be competency based. That means students will have to demonstrate mastery of content—not through memorization, but through performance, portfolios, or projects that encourage them to think and solve problems with hands-on activities. Students may perform a musical recital, make a significant oral presentation, write a major essay, or submit a portfolio of cumulative work from different disciplines.

The point is that students must produce evidence that they understand the content and can apply it in “real world” situations. Also known as “authentic assessments,” performance assessments lead students to reflect on their work and assess it themselves instead of bubbling in answers to multiple-choice questions on standardized tests.

Students in both states will still have to take state tests, but scores may only be one (and not the deciding) measure used in evaluation. In Rhode Island’s new system, state test scores may not count for more than 10 percent of the credits needed to graduate.

Personalization is an indispensable ingredient in performance-based assessment systems. Students take more responsibility for designing their own education, and that tends to increase motivation and erode the barriers between disciplines. Teachers guide students and help formulate rubrics for judging individual student work—a process that has proved to be an effective form of professional development.

Both New Hampshire and Rhode Island are sailing into uncharted waters where perilous icebergs abound. Such fundamental change inevitably encounters skepticism (much of it uninformed) from virtually every quarter. Public education is controlled by a variety of vested interests, from local school boards to politicians to teachers’ unions. Each will be wary of any move that threatens its comfort or power. Moreover, making a performance assessment system work requires expertise, deep commitment, and flexibility. Teachers and administrators will have to reinvent themselves, to put aside old conceptions and practices, and do something new and different. And there are other obstacles, like costs, No Child Left Behind, and college admission standards.

Will performance assessments live up to their promise? A study of four schools that piloted the new system in New Hampshire reports: “…[T]he data demonstrate a clear trend that more students are staying in high school, more students are graduating from high school, more students are better prepared for success beyond high school, and more students are planning to go on to postsecondary education.”

In addition, the dropout rate was cut in half in two schools and improved in a third. Students also showed improvement on the SAT and the state’s standardized exam. All four schools exceeded the state average for the percentage of students scoring at the advanced or proficient level in language arts, and two were above the state average in mathematics.

Time will tell if New Hampshire and Rhode Island succeed in their bold efforts to redesign their high schools, and whether other states are prepared to join them. Maine, Nebraska, and Vermont are among a handful that appear to be moving in that direction. Whether they have the courage and skill to negotiate the icebergs remains to be seen. Wish them well.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 01, 2007 edition of Teacher as The Real World


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.


Events

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.
Sponsor
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.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
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.
Sponsor
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

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

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.
Sponsor
Assessment Whitepaper
Proven Techniques for Assessing Students with Technology
Dr. Doug Fisher’s proven assessment techniques help your students become active learners and increase their chances for higher learning g...
Content provided by Achieve3000
Assessment Long a Testing Bastion, Florida Plans to End 'Outdated' Year-End Exams
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state will shift to "progress monitoring" starting in the 2022-23 school year.
5 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he believes a new testing regimen is needed to replace the Florida Standards Assessment, which has been given since 2015.
Marta Lavandier/AP
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
iStock/Getty