Across the country, educators and parents have decried the excessiveness of standardized testing and the limitations it has placed on curriculum and school culture.
The NY Performance Standards Consortium has created and documented another option, one that has not only graduated students at remarkable rates and prepared them to thrive in college but that has also put meaning and a sense of purpose back into the classroom.
A Unique System: The foundation of the Consortium assessment system—what makes it distinct from all other systems currently labeled as performance assessment—is the professionalism of its teachers and the opportunity for student voice and choice. None of these vital components is possible in an assessment system that is pre-packaged, top-down, standardized, and unresponsive to the dynamic life of the classroom.
In the Consortium system, the assessment tasks grow out of the curriculum. They are not imposed on curriculum, a process that must inevitably lead to the teach-to-the-test syndrome, whether the assessment is a task or a multiple-choice test. In the Consortium system, tasks become possibilities for assessment only after students and teachers have studied the material, discussed and debated it, subjected it to their questions and writing, and thought about what might make an interesting choice for a topic or question. The curriculum itself may undergo unexpected changes as a result of this process, with teachers introducing different books or journals or web materials to deepen the exploration of the topic, to respond to questions raised, or simply to help students understand an issue that has proven difficult for them. Out of this engagement and the relationship it develops in the classroom, both teacher and student become the creators of the task and take ownership of it. It is a meaningful and purposeful process, as opposed to the merely mechanical and formulaic response to “banked” or “canned” tasks.
The process begins with the student’s entrance into the school, with its literacy-based culture—extensive reading and writing and discussion experiences in all classrooms—and builds towards the graduation tasks required of every Consortium student: an analytic essay on literature, a social studies research paper, an extended or original science experiment, and problem-solving at higher levels of mathematics. (Each school may also add tasks in the arts, art criticism, foreign language, internship, or other areas.) In addition, a series of interim assessments, roundtables, oral argumentation based on content and evidence, analytic as well as creative and first-person writing, teacher- and student-initiated assignments, independent and assigned reading, and hands-on projects all prepare students for their graduation-level performance-based assessment tasks, known as PBATs. Graduation-level PBATs are evaluated by external assessors using Consortium rubrics for both writing and oral presentations.
“I learned the true beauty and reward of combining passion, creativity, and intellect.”
Consortium teachers commit to the many layers of work and collaboration required to make the system functional. They design challenging curriculum and tasks, respond to student interests and needs, develop and revise rubrics, and participate in Consortium- and school-based professional development. Collaboration is extensive, from observing each other’s classrooms, to visiting each other’s schools and serving as external evaluators, sharing curriculum, and evaluating each other’s work at annual moderation studies. The professionals who have participated in the Consortium schools have a unique role to play in the ongoing history of education in the U.S.