Better Outcomes. Fewer Tests. Not Imaginary.

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Across Florida, parents are concerned about the over emphasis of high stakes testing in our public schools. We are being told that standardized testing “is not going anywhere” and is necessary to ensure accountability. Is that true? Can schools be held accountable for providing quality education without over-reliance on standardized tests?

What if you learned there were accountability systems, well documented in America today, that showed consistently better results than test based accountability systems?  Higher graduation rates, fewer dropout, better teacher retention, high college acceptance/attendance. Better Outcomes. Fewer Tests. Sounds good, right?

One such system is demonstrating such successes  and it is called “Performance Based Assessments”. Jay Mathews gives an excellent introduction, “Intriguing alternative to rating schools by tests”, written in 2010,  here. Would Florida be willing to investigate such a system?

Apparently not.  Today I called the Florida Department of Education to ask who I could talk to about Performance Based Assessments. It was like I was speaking a foreign language.  They had “performance base pay” but not assessments.

Let us be clear: we are parents, not educators. We do not pretend to know this is the right solution for Florida. Our goal here is to start the conversation. We hope that discussion will include educators and not just legislators. We believe Florida should be investigating ALL educationally sound methods of accountability, discussing pros and cons, and piloting programs that show promise. We would like new programs to be considered based on their merits rather than their alignment with a particular ideology. Performance Based Assessments are just one promising option.

The best studied example of Performance Based Assessments, as discussed by Mr. Mathews, is the New York Performance Standards Consortium. From their website http://performanceassessment.org :

“The New York Performance Standards Consortium represents 28 schools across New York State. Formed in 1997, the Consortium opposes high stakes tests arguing that “one size does not fit all.

Despite skepticism that an alternative to high stakes tests could work, the New York Performance Standards Consortium has done just that…developed an assessment system that leads to quality teaching, that enhances rather than compromises our students’ education. Consortium school graduates go on to college and are successful.”

The main components of the system are:

  • Practitioner-designed and student-focused assessment tasks
  • External evaluators for written and oral student work
  • Moderation studies to establish reliability
  • Extensive professional development
  • Predictive validity based on graduates’ college success

Report here DataReport_NY_PSC

The success of the program is obvious when the Consortium Schools are compared to NYC Public High Schools:

  • Higher 4  and 5 year Graduation Rates (68.6% and 76.0% vs 59.0% and 66.1%).
  • Fewer Dropouts (5.3% vs 11.8%).
  • Higher Graduation rates for Black and Hispanic Students (60.8% vs 53.9% and 64.9% vs 51.8%, respectively).
  • Dramatically higher Graduation Rates for English Language Learners (69.5% vs 39.7%).
  • Dramatically higher Graduation Rates for Special Needs Students (50.0% vs 24.7%).
  • Impressive Minority Male College Acceptance rates 2011: 86% AA male consortium graduates accepted to college 2011 (37% national), 90% Latino Male Consortium student (42% nationally).
  • Lower teacher turnover than other groups of NYC public schools.
  • Lower Suspension rates than other NYC school.

Consortium Schools have essentially identical demographics, with regard to ethnicity, special needs and poverty levels  in the schools. Students come to the consortium at a slightly lower proficiency level: 2.71 vs 2.76 for NYC (out of 4.5).

These public schools in New York have created an alternative to the “status quo” and have achieved great success, especially for the most at-risk students, without reliance on high stakes standardized tests.

New York City is not alone…

New Hampshire educators took interest in the success of performance assessments and have launched a state led program to maintain accountability and reduce the amount standardized testing in New Hampshire public schools via Performance Assessment of Competency Education. Read about the program here.

PACE is a first-in-the-nation accountability strategy that offers a reduced level of standardized testing together with locally developed common performance assessments. These assessments are designed to support deeper learning through competency education, and to be more integrated into students’ day-to-day work than current standardized tests. Meaningful assessment is a key part of a strategy to ensure students are getting the most out of their education.

With PACE, New Hampshire does not eliminate the use of standardized testing but reduces state mandated testing, in participating schools, from annually to once each in elementary, middle and high school.

New Hampshire’s PACE program was piloted in two high schools, beginning in 2009, and since implementation both schools reported significant drops in course failures and dropout rates. Read about the success here.

We applaud New Hampshire’s thoughtful investigation of Performance Based Assessments. We believe Performance Based Assessments might be a potential “cure” for #accountabaloney. What other successful programs are out there? Is Florida willing to fully investigate them? As parents, we ask only that our Legislature and Department of Education, rather than stubbornly insisting on the current system, consider options to test based accountability.