In New Hampshire, research and experience has shown us that when students are allowed to demonstrate what they’ve learned, both their skills and their knowledge are increased. Smart assessment is a learning experience in itself. Such assessment focuses on developing higher order thinking skills such as reasoning, performance skills, and critical thinking skills.
The example of the state driving test has been used to illustrate the importance of performance assessment. How comfortable would we be if we required our 16-year olds to pass only a multiple choice and short-answer exam before receiving their license? Performance – demonstration of competency – is considered a critical and essential skill in this instance. It tells important and vital things about current skill and potential mastery.
We believe that performance assessments must involve student demonstration against an overt set of performance standards or competencies that are known ahead of time, before learning commences, by both the teacher and the student. We also have seen that teacher observation of the student demonstrating these competencies is the most authentic type of performance assessment. The breadth and depth of the student’s ability to analyze foundation and content knowledge, to evaluate it, synthesize it and apply it, are right before the observers in a powerful way.
The overt set of criteria – what we refer to in New Hampshire as the course-level competencies – adds to the effectiveness of the student demonstration, showing whether the student has developed real world abilities to take in knowledge and use it in ways that not only enhance their personal skill set, but expand it. Allowing and encouraging application of learning in novel and new situations is an excellent way to see how deep the learning is.
According to Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues, performance assessment
- Allows instruction to be altered in a timely fashion to meet student learning needs
- Elevates the focus of instruction to higher order thinking skills
- Leads to more student engagement in both the learning & the assessment process
- Provides clearer information to parents about student development, accomplishments and needs
- Provides more accurate and comprehensible assessment of what students know & can do
- Results in greater teacher improvement in buy-in, collaboration, and teaching practices (and, we’ve found in New Hampshire, also leads to greater teacher retention)
In New Hampshire, the first step to putting performance assessment into the hands of teachers was to require, in policy, course-level competencies. An example of these course level competencies can be seen in the Civics Competencies that we are requiring, for comparability purposes, of the various schools in our Extended Learning Opportunities pilot initiative, funded by Nellie Mae Education Foundation.
Based on our experiences in the development our state Competency-Based Assessment System from 1996 through 2006, we are committed to keeping assessment as close to authentic as possible for our extended learning opportunities – real demonstration of learning in real contexts. To do this requires portability and transferability of the learning criteria – and we have this in course-level competencies.
The early Competency-Based Assessment emphasized habits of mind and being, what we called cross-cutting skills (Problem-Solving and Decision making, Communication Skills, Self-Management, Ability to Work With Others, and Information Use: analysis, research, and technology) as well as content knowledge demonstrated in English language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and the Arts, clustered in demonstrable units of learning. These competencies were developed by teams of educators and administrators with student input. Students were a great help in reducing the educational jargon so that the competencies could be used by students, teachers, parents, and community partners.
From 2003 through 2005, revisions and additions to our Minimum Standards for School Approval were developed with enormous stakeholder input. Policy construction hand-in-hand with those who must implement it and abide by it is the New Hampshire way. The changes to these standards for schools emphasize
- learning expectations that are portable and transferable (i.e., all HS courses must have developed course level competencies through which credit is granted toward graduation based on student demonstration of mastery of those competencies)
- rigorous, focused, and deep learning inside and outside of the traditional classroom settingELO-Design-Template-2-NH-DOE