Some schools are transitioning from the Smarter Balanced Assessment to the PACE Assessment.  An assessment of “competencies.”

Today I spoke before the New Hampshire Board of Education about the concerns I had going forward with the PACE Assessment based on a document that was presented at the last Board of Education Meeting. The BOLD is from that document and my comments are below.
Summary PACE Formative Eval Report_10 March 2017_v2(1)

The state law says that the standardized test must be objectively scored. One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents is that the competencies are subjectively graded.

The common tasks must be administered in a standardized manner during the operational year to achieve comparability. After the pilot and operational years, these common tasks are available in a growing bank of tasks from which teachers can select to use as local tasks.

Doesn’t that negate the idea that this is a local test when the question comes from a “task bank?”

And, while PACE likely requires more testing time than Smarter Balanced, because it is so integrated into the curriculum, students often do not realize they are taking a test. Instead, they consider the PACE tasks to be another part of their daily classwork2.

If students do not realize they’re taking a test how do they prepare? Many students want to give extra attention to testing when they study. 
IT highlights that there is MORE TESTING TIME.  The component that everyone has been saying IS the problem.  
How do parents refuse the PACE assessment if it’s embedded and requires MORE testing time?

“If we believe that all students must be college- and career-ready . . .
• then, our system must advance students as they demonstrate mastery of knowledge, 
skills, and work study practices, . . .
• which requires a comprehensive system of educator and school supports.” 

Where is it defined, what it means to be “career and college ready”?

I thought that’s why we had Common Core.  If schools followed Common Core standards, they were college and career ready.  Now you are telling us that we need “competencies’. 

Then they tell us the competencies are local but we have state competencies.  How do we know these competencies are going to make the kids “college and career ready”?  Where’s the proof?

The term mastery is used…but I consider mastery, the mastery of the academic content. I believe parents assume the same thing. If the competency doesn’t cover all of the content that should be taught then you are giving a false impression to parents that their child is “competent in the subject matter.” 

A few years ago I asked Prof. W. Stephen Wilson, a Mathematician from Johns Hopkins Univ. to look at the Algebra I competencies in a several districts in New Hampshire; Rochester, Litchfield, Bedford and what was listed on the NH Department of Education web site. His comments were highly critical especially of Rochester, Litchfield and the NH DoE:–redesigning-new-hampshire-schools-through-outcomeccd4fa1937. The NH DoE didn’t get it right. Neither did several school districts. IF a student passed those competencies, they weren’t competent in Algebra I.

Knowing that some competencies involve non-academic “skills” or social and emotional competencies, what are they really mastering? Behavior modification? That’s not objective and should require informed written consent from parents. That’s required of mental health professionals in private practice due to HIPPA laws and the APA code of ethics. (APA Code of Ethics Section 9:

The final evaluation report describes the various data collection activities and summarizes the evidence for each goal and its underlying claims and assumptions, thereby creating a validity argument for the PACE pilot program.

Creating a validity argument? Is PACE a valid assessment or not? Are the PACE assessments being administered violating state statute if they are not validated properly? 
Where are the empirical studies demonstrating the tests had the predictive capability?
What kind of data is being collected? Especially on non-academic behavior/dispositions? 
How have parents been informed on the social and emotional testing? 
Were parents required to give written consent? 
If this was done by a licensed mental health professional outside the school, written consent would be required due to HIPPA laws. Any type of psychological assessment requires informed written consent from parents. If my child was given a psychological evaluation in the form of a standardized assessment, I’d be talking to an attorney.

There is a great deal of “teacher training”…who is paying for that? 

Kentucky abandoned performance testing years ago, the KIRIS Here is what the Bluegrass Institute says:
“Inaccurate scoring, high expense, slow results turn-around, and outright failures were rampant with some of these ideas.”

PACE tasks require deep knowledge on the part of students. There is no chance of getting an answer correct by guessing. Students actually perform the tasks on which they are assessed, rather than answer questions about those tasks. PACE proponents describe the tasks as authentic and important.  

But according to Professor W. Stephen Wilson, much of the content is missing from the Algebra I competencies. In other words, if a task requires a student to know 5×5=25 while they are doing the task, they may pass. However if they never require the student to know all of the multiplication table because that’s not part of the competency, then it gives everyone the false impression that the student has mastered the core content.

When I sat in on the “listening session” at Pinkerton on the NGSS, the message was, we don’t want kids to regurgitate facts anymore.  So there is no need to know facts/information?  As a math tutor, the kids who know their math facts are at a CLEAR advantage than those who do not. High School math teachers and Mathematicians teaching at the college level that I work with, would agree.

The second testable claim from the Theory of Action is “participating districts collaborate with one another.” This claim is also supported in a number of ways. First, educators from all Tier 1 districts meet regularly throughout the year. They participate in task development sessions, professional development, scoring sessions, standard-setting, and other meetings. These cross- district meetings require that personnel from different schools work together to accomplish common goals.

Has anyone put a price tag on what this costs the local school district? 
How much time is spent away from the classroom ? Are more substitutes needed?

The majority of students report that they would rather take a PACE assessment than an end-of-year comprehensive test like Smarter Balanced or the New England Comprehensive Assessment Program (NECAP) test.

Sure, no one, including teachers want anything to do with the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Smarter Balanced is not a good alternative and Nashua teachers described that assessment as being like a psychological evaluation too. (

When the students who indicated they would rather take a mostly multiple-choice assessment were asked why, they typically responded that they liked having some chance of getting the answer correct, even if they did not know the content very well.  

There is no assurance that PACE will show us that the all of the content that should be learned has been mastered. In other words, we know that Common Core Math Standards do not include teaching prime factorization. Consequently, it does not teach least common denominators or greatest common factors.
 How are parents assured that all of necessary math content is taught and mastered ?

We found considerable evidence that students’ scores and annual determinations are accurate and reliable. Scorers were effectively trained and PACE tasks were double scored. The common task was used to calibrate among the districts and to evaluate scorer accuracy 

Nothing about VALIDITY, RELIABLE or OBJECTIVE which is required in state law. 
UNH Professor also explains the SBAC is not VALID:

PACE was implemented, in part, to reduce perceived negative consequences associated with large-scale, end-of-year standardized testing.  

Parents and teachers have been bothered by the excessive amount of testing. They’ve also been bothered by the data-collection and assessments of values, attitudes and dispositions. 

No one ever complained when schools used achievement tests. They were returned to parents and weren’t used by bureaucrats to judge schools or teachers. It wasn’t about data collecting and focused on testing academic content. It also didn’t dominate the school calendar.  Using an achievement test aligned to high quality academic standards assures, parents that the foundation is there before expecting students to apply their knowledge. Schools have every opportunity to incorporate performance based testing on their own. However it’s up to the State of NH to make sure the academic content is not missing. That’s the difference between supporting literacy and illiteracy.

PACE was designed to stave off reductions in the depth of learning of students, to promote critical thinking, and to integrate curriculum, 

To get kids to think critically, they first must know the academic content. This is exactly what we are being told is no longer important. Facts and knowledge (literacy) is no longer the focus. PACE offers us no guarantee they have the knowledge first.
I want my surgeon to know the FACTS first. Then he/she will have the ability to think critically about how to perform my surgery.

Those who attend nursing school must learn chemistry, biology, anatomy, and physiology first. In other words, the content was learned/mastered FIRST. Then they apply their knowledge second.

The biggest concerns is that they are trying to put the cart before the horse.

PACE tasks, especially science and English language arts tasks, can take a long time to implement. PACE tasks are designed to measure big, but reasonably discrete, ideas from the content standards. The developers must constantly ask themselves if the time investment to implement the performance assessments generates sufficient information to justify that time. 
These are some of the reasons why Kentucky abandoned this kind of performance testing years ago.

Some of the science tasks can take more than a week’s worth of classes to complete. Some of the English language arts tasks, because they may require that students read an entire novel in class, can take even longer. PACE task developers must guard against the tasks becoming so long that they unintentionally narrow the curriculum. 

This is a complicated and cumbersome way to make sure a child knows the science content. The amount of time testing coupled with long “tasks” have the potential to slow down the learning pace. How does this compare to a class where the time is spent learning quality academic content and simply being tested to make sure they know it? Where are any independent studies that show these kinds of performance assessments improve academic outcomes? Compared to students using better quality academic standards? Not just students in another Common Core School District?

…one high school English language arts common task required students to respond to a text. One school chose a Shakespearean play as their text. The school then chose that same play as the winter drama production and staged the play with student actors for all the school prior to the administration of the task. While this is certainly not a prohibited activity, it may have given the school and its students an advantage over other schools that were not so savvy.

How is that objective scoring? Where are the Smarter Balanced/ PACE test questions posted publicly? Massachusetts would post the test questions that after administering the MCAS.

PACE requires a tremendous amount of work on the part of teachers. While most teachers were very supportive of PACE, it was not uncommon for them to comment on the time and effort required to implement the program, including development of tasks and rubrics as well as task administration and scoring. Survey results indicate that approximately one fourth of respondents did not think that the time and effort required by the PACE initiative was worth the benefits Also, a few outlier responses obtained during interviews and focus groups suggested going back to Smarter Balanced. One goal of PACE is to generate enough tasks that development can become a more reasonable ongoing process of replenishing or revising only a few new tasks per year. Until that goal is reached, there is the potential for over-burdening teachers. 

Are teachers hired to teach or to develop cumbersome performance assessments ?
What are the costs involved?
How much time does this take away from the classroom? 
Smarter Balanced is not an alternative they should have to rely upon if they don’t want to do the PACE assessment. It comes with its own set of problems that teachers hate.

Once teachers develop units of study and associated performance tasks, they tend to use them for several years. The nature of PACE promotes this practice and, because of the complex nature of the tasks, we are not overly concerned with test security.  

Not concerned with Test Security?  
How are test questions released to the public? Per RSA 193-C:10?
RSA 193-C:10: effective September 12, 2014; see also RSA 193-C:10 set out above.] 193-C:10 Accessibility of Assessment Materials. – After the assessment results are released by the department, a pupil’s parent or legal guardian shall have the right to inspect and review the pupil’s assessment, including the questions asked, the pupil’s answers, instructions or directions to the pupil, and other supplementary materials related or used to administer the pupil’s assessment. A parent or legal guardian shall direct a request for inspection or review to the pupil’s school, and the school shall comply with such request within 45 days of its receipt. The department of education shall make available released assessment items on the department’s website as soon as possible after the statewide assessment results are released. The commissioner shall adopt rules, pursuant to RSA 541-A, to implement procedures for the review and inspection of assessment materials. These rules shall provide parents and legal guardians with no fewer rights accorded to them under the Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act, 20 U.S.C. 1232g.
Source. 1998, 290:1, eff. Jan. 1, 1999. 2014, 219:1, eff. Sept. 12, 2014

1) How is PACE local control in assessments when they rely upon the state data-bank?
2) How do parents refuse the PACE assessments?
3) What is the definition of College and Career ready? Does that mean Common Core? Common Core with Competency Based Ed.?
4) Is there any independent data that shows that students who graduate following Common Core/Competency Based Learning is “College and Career Ready” as defined by the New Hampshire Board of Education?
5) Can students be “College and Career” ready by using the Common Core Standards only? If not, why were we told by the former Commissioner that Common Core accomplished this task ?
6) What non-academic competencies are students expected to “pass?” Do those competencies require scoring social and emotional competencies as noted by Sanborn (
7) PACE is based on the Common Core Standards., Has anyone identified the missing academic standards or those that slow down the pace of learning so parents would be aware that mastering competencies doesn’t exactly mean your child may not be competent in the core academic subjects?
8) What are all of the costs to the state/district to implement PACE?
9) How much time is needed for substitutes in the classroom?
10) How are test questions released to the public? Where can parents locate ALL of the test questions that have been given in the PACE districts?

Finally, Jason Zimba, lead math writer of the Common Core Math standards in this video admits that Common Core is not for STEM. Has the Board of Education conveyed to the public that Common Core is not for students going in the STEM direction?

Ann Marie Banfield
Education Liaison, Cornerstone Action

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 contact her at: [email protected]