Recently Manchester parents discovered that the PACE “Competency” based assessment program might be coming to their local school district to replace the Smarter Balanced Assessment in some grades.  In 4th grade and 8th grade, the Smarter Balanced will be administered and in 11th grade the Common Core aligned SAT or ACT will now be used.

I recently presented information before the BOSC regarding the PACE program based on information from the New Hampshire Department of Education and from school board members and parents in some PACE pilot districts.

Education week recently ran an article, ESSA’s Flexibility on Assessment Elicits Qualms From Testing Experts where they reported: New Hampshire has drawn attention for a pilot program that uses a mixture of tests from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and locally developed performance tasks. About 10 other states are investigating variations on testing that include features such as blending year-end summative tests with competency-based tests given throughout the year, said Jennifer Davis Poon, the program director of the Innovation Lab Network at the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is working with those states.

In other words, those who thought they were escaping the Smarter Balanced Assessment  may not actually escape it at all.  In the education world, this is how bureaucrats mislead school board members and parents.

According to the article and various documents provided by the NH Department of Education, PACE may sound different, but in many ways it doesn’t appear that much will be changing. PACE will include some “performance tasks.”

Bureaucrats tried to sell New Hampshire legislators on PACE with misleading information that the number of assessments will decrease with PACE.  Many of us couldn’t figure out how they would remove ONE Smarter Balanced Assessment, replace it with multiple PACE assessments, and call that a reduction.

When I presented the information to the Manchester BOSC and identified language in the “No Child Left Behind Waiver” that commits local schools to state and federal control and involvement in the PACE assessments, Manchester’s Superintendent Dr. Livingston then gave what appeared to be contradictory information.

During the presentation on PACE which came after me, Dr. Livingston seems to give the BOSC the impression that PACE would offer the district the local control in testing they had been looking for.

However if that were the case, PACE would have been widely supported by our elected legislators in New Hampshire.  PACE was new and untested, sold as if it would decrease testing when everyone could see testing would increase, was being developed by shady characters, and continued the practice of using invalid psychometric testing on our children. The New Hampshire legislature, after listening to testimony on PACE rejected the program.

Parents were looking for valid tests that would test academic knowledge. Parents were not looking for another data-collector that was going to measure their child’s dispositions and attitudes.

The New Hampshire Department of Education did not offered the legislature valid achievement tests of knowledge but instead pushed assessments that parents across the country are rejecting.  It’s simple, the test should inform PARENTS on how well their children know academic content.  They should not abuse a parent’s trust by conducting psych evaluations on their children without their knowledge or consent.

Many questions on PACE continue to go unanswered:
1) What data will be collected on each child who participates in PACE? Where will it go?
2) Will the school require written and INFORMED consent before administering the PACE assessments to their children?  This would be required if a licensed medical professional was administering a psychometric assessment on your child.
3) Will ALL PACE assessments be returned to parents to review?
4) Are the students graded on the PACE assessments?
5) Can students move forward if they do not pass these assessments?
6) Will the results be used in a teacher’s evaluation in a; Title 1 district or in a district that doesn’t accept Title 1 funding at any time in the future?
7) Will these assessments be “Validated” prior to administering them to the students?
8) Are there any consequences to children if they refuse the PACE assessments?
9) How do you compare one district to another in NH when they are all using different questions? Or any other state?
10) Are teachers developing their own assessment questions/ performance tasks ? OR are the questions based on the Smarter Balanced Assessments per the documentation provided by the NH Dept. of Ed and the Performance task “bank” provided to PACE schools?  Do the teachers have to align to the Smarter Balanced ALDs?
11) Will Special Needs students be subjected to PACE assessments?

After the Manchester BOSC, I sent an e-mail to Heather Gage, Chief of Staff at the New Hampshire Dept. of Education, asking her many of these questions.  I did receive a reply but unfortunately none of my questions were directly answered.

Instead I was sent the following:
Thank you for your questions regarding assessments. More information is available on the PACE pilot on our website, http://education.nh.gov/assessment-systems/pace.htm. Specifically, the following document have been posted since we started the PACE pilot and may be helpful in regards to your questions:
Pilot Overview
Guide
PACE info
Proposal to the United States Dept. of Education

Regarding any changes due to the recent passage of ESSA (reauthorization of No Child Left Behind), here is what I was told by Ms. Gage, “The ESSA has only just passed and information is only just now coming out about the transition. I’m sure there will be numerous opportunities to have further discussions in the next several months.

No where in this reply indicates changes to the PACE program since the passage of ESSA.  That is understandable considering the law is new, lays out parameters for testing and is currently being deciphered by state boards of education across the United States.

This seems to contradict what Dr. Livingston reported during the last presentation to the BOSC on the PACE program.  During the presentation, there were several references to the PACE program as being one that is developed at the local level by local teachers.  However within the documentation presented by the NH Department of Education and the Education Week article, that simply isn’t true.

If something has changed, it’s important to see documentation on the PACE program and how exactly it’s changed.  From what I received from the NH Dept. of Ed. there is no documentation to suggest there has been any changes and they are still waiting to see how they will transition.

It’s also important to note that the organization that will be training the teachers on PACE in Manchester is funded through the Nellie Mae Foundation.  What you give up in terms of local control (forced teaching methods that lower academic achievement) in order to get funding from Nellie Mae needs to be carefully examined. The organizations tied to Nellie Mae and Nellie Mae have laid out their agenda to promote social justice and radicalize teachers versus focus on academic excellence.

That’s why it’s critical that parents and board members request INDEPENDENT studies that show academic achievement when implementing any new program, or when pedagogy (teaching methods) are part of the requirement in receiving that grant funding.

From what we’ve seen in the past, the focus on student centered learning, project based learning, or inquiry based learning, in the areas of math and science, can actually slow the progress of learning and over time, put students years behind their international peers.

While this may satisfy those pushing for the dumbed down workforce training or so-called 21st century skills, there is a shift away from academic excellence when these practices are implemented.  What’s extremely worrisome is when programs like PACE and organizations like Nellie Mae demand schools use these “methods.”

This is what teachers, administrators, board members and parents should decide on.  That way if the pedagogy is not working well in the classroom, the teacher has the freedom to change up those teaching practices.  As Manchester moves forward with the PACE program, parents need to request detailed information that includes documentation so they can read about it themselves.

Achievement tests will test your child’s academic knowledge.  They are not used by the government to assess your child’s attitudes, values, dispositions and gather personal data on them.  This kind of testing be done in a way that offers real value to the parents, teachers and board members.  However with this shift to Smarter Balanced Assessments and now PACE, they do not offer the kind of detailed information on a child’s academic knowledge.

Until such testing is offered in the public schools in New Hampshire, it might be a better idea to continue refusing these kinds so assessments on your children and look to an outside and independent test.  This can be done by using an; Iowa Basic Skills Test, Stanford Achievement Test, or the California Achievement Test.  Make sure you request a non-Common Core test.

A short time ago I also asked Heather Gage for any information on Competency Based Education in New Hampshire and whether there were independent studies that showed improvement in academic achievement.  This shift to the failed Outcome Based model from the 90’s showed significant problems back then.  After several years in New Hampshire schools, where was the data that showed improvement?  Unfortunately there are no independent studies that show there has been any improvement and based on the last national assessment (NAEP) either scores have fallen or remained stagnant.

It would be wise to instead of jumping on another “fix” like PACE, to slow down and start demanding answers.  There is no need to jump to another assessment like PACE that is already showing dismal results.

Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can reach her at: [email protected]
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Examples from the documentation provided by the NH Dept. of Ed on PACE that  show the power lies with state and federal bureaucrats:

Participating districts must have already developed a coherent and high quality set of K-12 competencies, mapped to the State graduation competencies,……

How will student proficiency be measured in the pilot districts?:

School districts participating in the PACE pilot will be required to report the number and percentage of students at each grade level who are meeting both locally defined, but state (and peer) approved definitions of proficiency and competency.

NH DOE will require the PACE districts to anchor their annual determinations of proficiency (competency) to the Smarter Balanced ALDs for the respective grade level and subject area.

In addition, to ensure that all students are held to the same set of college and career ready expectations, the state has adopted college and career readiness standards and state model competencies that describe the knowledge, skills, and work study practices that all students are expected to master before they exit the K-12 system. All districts, regardless of the assessment system in use, must demonstrate the alignment of their systems with these standards and model competencies.

The Task Bank contains tasks for which there exist approved New Hampshire Competencies: ELA, mathematics, science, and work-study practices.

A complete list of tasks with descriptions can be found at http://tinyurl.com/alltaskslist.

http://education.nh.gov/assessment-systems/documents/pilot-overview.pdf

The PACE option will have multiple components, but performance assessment will be a central feature.

PACE will include common performance tasks that have high technical quality, locally designed performance tasks with guidelines for ensuring high technical quality, regional scoring sessions and local district peer review audits to ensure sound accountability systems and high inter-rater reliability, a web-based bank of local and common performance tasks, and a regional support network for districts and schools.

Student-as-worker, teacher-as-coach

The governing practical metaphor of the school should be “student-as-worker”, rather than the more familiar metaphor of “teacher as deliverer of instructional services.” Accordingly, a prominent pedagogy will be coaching students to learn how to learn and thus to teach themselves.
http://essentialschools.org/common-principles/

How would the assessments be benchmarked or validated against state assessments?

Districts participating in the PACE initiative will be required to administer state summative assessments (Smarter Balanced) in will be required to be administered at least once during each grade span (e.g., grades 4, 8, and 11).
In addition, prior to being selected to participate in the PACE initiative, districts will be required to submit their locally-designed systems of performance-based assessments to NH DOE for vetting through a peer review process. The peer review process would utilize a state-designed rubric to ensure high quality; alignment with state standards, model competencies, and performance expectations; comparability with other tasks or measures requiring similar knowledge or skills; and consistency and accuracy of scoring.  (this means Common Core)

How would the assessments be comparable across districts?

While 100% comparability across districts administering different systems of assessment cannot be assured– nor is it expected–

Peer review will be structured to provide support and technical assistance to districts to ensure that local systems maintain high quality. However, is a district fails to meet peer review requirements after being provided support, the district’s permission to participate in the pilot in subsequent years may be revoked.

NH DOE will require all PACE pilot districts to demonstrate how their assessment tasks are aligned and comparable to other tasks or measures of similar knowledge and skills.

Performance Assessment institutes on assessment literacy, competencies and designs for teaching them (knowledge, skills, and dispositions

Regional task validation sessions will be conducted to assist districts in fine-tuning assessment tasks to ensure they measure target knowledge, skills, and dispositions

What capacity does the state have to validate locally-developed assessments?

NH DOE will enlist the assistance of expert practitioners as well as other national assessment expertise to support a peer-review validation process for locally-developed systems of assessments

Additionally, as described below, student learning objectives (SLO), which are required for NH’s educator evaluation system, will be used for documenting and reporting student progress within each year.

Competency or learning trajectory-referenced growth documents students’ growth against a pre-defined learning trajectory toward mastering college and career ready graduation competencies. Note, this approach is still several years from being defined well enough to be implemented.

(PACE info PACE FAQ)

We know that true psychometric comparability (i.e., “interchangeability”) across districts administering different systems of assessment cannot be assured. In fact, we know that it is not expected. ….

We argue that comparability efforts should not be focused on individual assessments administered throughout the year, rather the focus of comparability must be on the annual determinations. NHDOE has proposed an approach to do just that. The Smarter Balanced Achievement Level Descriptors (ALDs) are the basis for establishing cut scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessments (this process was recently completed). The ALDs serve as the narrative descriptions of performance and the role of the standard setting panelists is to match the narrative descriptions with actual performance on the test. Therefore, NHDOE has decided to require all of the PACE districts to anchor their annual determinations of proficiency (competency) to the Smarter Balanced ALDs for the respective grade level and subject area.  http://education.nh.gov/assessment-systems/documents/pilot-proposal.pdf

You are encouraged to read ALL information that has been provided by the New Hampshire Department of Education on the PACE program in some New Hampshire schools.