The PGES Student Growth Component

This article was submitted by Cora Wigger, a graduate student in public policy at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education.

Examining TPGES’s Student Growth Component

The 2014-2015 school year was the first where all schools in the state fully implemented the Kentucky Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), and beginning in 2015-2016 all schools and districts will be required by the state to use the results of PGES evaluations for decision-making for professional development and retention plans. Now is a particularly critical time for the state to be evaluating both the structure and rollout of PGES in order to make any final changes before stakes are officially attached to the system.

PGES Overview: http://kyedreport.com/?p=148

If you follow teacher evaluation systems in other states or in the national conversation, you’ve probably come across the terms “Value Added Models” (VAM) (a calculation of student test scores that attributes to the teacher the growth of a student beyond what would have been predicted) and “Student Learning Objectives” (SLO’s) (individualized learning goals developed and assessed for each of a teacher’s students). Kentucky uses both of these in the Student Growth portion of their teacher evaluation system (TPGES), but refrains from using the often politicized terms.  Smart, since not all VAMs and SLOs are created equal.

Kentucky’s Student Growth Goals, a take on SLO’s, are a strong pedagogical tool, and Kentucky’s push to use this strategy statewide is ambitious and forward-thinking, because they’re not easy to implement and monitor. Available research generally supports the idea that SLO’s have a positive effect on student learning, and the individualized nature of goal-development promotes teacher buy-in for the evaluation system. However, there is little evidence that SLO’s are a valid or reliable tool for measuring teacher effectiveness for evaluation (see Morgan & Lacireno, 2013). While the process of creating and using these student growth goals may be beneficial for both teacher practice and student learning, their use in TPGES for determining a teacher effectiveness score and subsequent teacher development and retention needs may not end up being a responsible or accurate measurement approach.

The second component of a teacher’s student growth score uses a student’s change in test scores as compared to their academic peers to determine the teacher’s contribution to that student’s academic growth. Kentucky’s approach here maximizes teacher buy-in by limiting the application of test score data to teachers who actually taught the students being tested in a given year (as compared to some systems that hold all teachers in a school accountable for students’ test scores, even those teaching untested subjects). Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) are determined for each tested student in at least their second year of consecutive testing by comparing each students’ current year scores to other students state-wide with the same scores on the previous year’s test. SGP is determined based on what percentile each student falls in according to their current test score compared to other students with the same test score from the year before. A teacher’s Median Student Growth Percentile (MSGP) is determined from the median of all of that teacher’s students’ SGPs. As complicated an explanation as that may be, compared to other Value Added Models, Kentucky’s is extremely simple. Some VAMs, for instance, take student background or teacher experience into account. And by basing the final SGP score on percentiles instead of raw scores, the TPGES model necessitates that there will always be students with a low SGP and a high SGP, even if all students do better (or worse) than would have been predicted.

The SGP approach also limits the years and subjects for which an assessment-based growth score can be calculated, because it requires consecutive years of test data in the same subject, greatly reducing the number of teachers able to receive a score from the pool of teachers who teach tested subjects. It also averages scores over three years, when available, which is statistically great, but for new teachers it makes each year hold more weight than for those with more experience. Overall, the use of SGP’s for student growth measurement is a potentially invalid and unreliable statistical tool that doesn’t utilize much of the available test data for determining teacher contribution to student growth.

However, it may not much matter. Kentucky allows districts to determine the weight that MSGP scores receive, theoretically allowing this score to make up as little as 5% of the overall student growth score for a teacher. So while it may not be as statistically sound or reliable as is ideal, districts have the ability to nearly completely leave it out of teachers’ final effectiveness scores. However, this then places all of the weight (for untested teachers) and nearly all of the weight (for tested teachers in districts that place little importance on MSGP) on student growth goals, which I have already demonstrated may be a flawed source for teacher evaluation.

The theory behind having an effective teacher evaluation model is that you will improve students’ education by improving the teachers – either by changing which teachers are in the work force or by identifying areas of weakness and tailoring professional development around those areas and for those teachers. But I will not be surprised if we come to see that TPGES isn’t so great at the identification of strong and weak teachers and areas of practice, given its not so strong measurement tools. However, if done well, the use of student growth goals accompanying TPGES may directly improve the education our students receive by giving teachers a powerful tool for offering individualized education to every student. And ultimately, that’s the purpose of any teacher evaluation system. I would be wary, however, to overuse TPGES in more high-stakes decisions that impact teachers, like pay scales or dismissals, as the system may not be up to snuff to be able to give us that kind of reliable information.

Morgan, C., Lacireno-Paquet, N. (2013) Overview of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs): Review of the Literature. Regional Education Laboratory at EDC.

For more on Student Learning Objectives and how they may impact teacher performance and student outcomes, see an analysis of Denver’s ProComp System.

For more on some of the challenges of VAM alluded to in Wigger’s analysis, see Some Inconvenient Facts About VAM.

For a look at some of the challenges posed by Tennessee’s relatively sophisticated VAM model, see The Worst Teachers

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

The Danger of Achievement

Drew Perkins of Perkins Ed Consulting writes about the Culture of Achievement and how it can be harmful to students.

Perkins specializes in professional development related to Project-based learning, a topic I’ve written about before.

This column originally appeared on his blog, and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Achievement sounds great doesn’t it? What parent doesn’t want their child to achieve? What teacher doesn’t hope their students achieve at a high level? Of course achievement in general is a good thing but the Culture of Achievement created by high stakes accountability measures is having a dangerous effect on education.

A culture of achievement places it’s focus on the most easily quantifiable and measurable results, test scores. As superintendents and building administrators work to keep their jobs and show they are successful it’s somewhat understandable (if not short-sighted) that this would be a focus. Test scores are the currency in which the general public uses to judge schools. Want to know which schools are the best just ask Google and the top results show rankings like US News & World Report and SchoolDigger.com who state very clearly that test scores are a major factor in their ratings system. For example, US News & World Report explain they begin their rating of schools by “…using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks.” The unfortunate truth is that these tests are not measuring things important to creating the type of graduates society needs and is longing for. Most standardized tests attempt to measure content knowledge and understanding and not skills or thinking you would find on the upper parts of Bloom’s taxonomy. What this often creates then is an approach by administrators that demands a focus on identifying exactly what parts of the test students are not performing well (disaggregating the data) and pulling those students for intentional work on shoring up those specific shortcomings. Sometimes these are called RTI classes and other times teachers are just asked to analyze student data in their PLC’s and reteach or somehow get these students to “achieve” so they can compete with other students and schools.
This detachment from the purpose of school and learning creates a level of frustration, anxiety and burnout that I experienced first-hand as a teacher and from students who have little to no interest in playing school. The misplaced focus of a Culture of Achievement manifests itself in ways that include test prep, students working on and celebrating closing of achievement score gaps, emphasis on coverage of content and almost always an unacceptable level of anxiety & burnout. Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is it’s low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.
What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.
If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter?
Are you interested in improving your Culture of Teaching and Learning?
For more on moving toward a Culture of Teaching and Learning, visit Drew’s site.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Core Reversal

Legislation (HB33) has been filed in the Kentucky General Assembly that would repeal the Common Core State Standards now in place in Kentucky and prohibit adoption or use of the Next Generation Science Standards.

Governor Steve Beshear previously stood up for the science standards when a committee of legislators opposed them.

Here’s a legislative summary including a list of bill sponsors:

HB 33 (BR 97) – T. Kerr, L. Bechler, R. Bunch, K. Imes, T. Moore, S. Santoro, D. St. Onge

AN ACT relating to public school standards.
Create a new section to KRS Chapter 158 to prohibit the Kentucky Board of Education and the Kentucky Department of Education from implementing the English language arts and mathematics academic content standards developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative and the science academic content standards developed by the Next Generation Science Standards Initiative; require the state board to recommend new content standards to school districts and schools after consultation with the Council on Postsecondary Education; require public involvement in standards development; clarify the authority of the local board of education to adopt standards which differ from or exceed the standards approved by the state board; clarify that the school-based decision making councils shall develop policies based upon the standards adopted by the local boards of education; prohibit state officials from ceding control of education content standards and assessments; prohibit withholding of state funds from school districts for adopting different academic content standards; amend KRS 156.070 to limit disclosure of personally identifiable information; direct the Kentucky Board of Education to require that the Department of Education and all school districts adhere to transparency and privacy standards when outsourcing data and Web-based tasks to vendors; clarify vendor contract requirements; amend KRS 158.6453 to permit a local board of education to supplement the state board-approved academic content standards with higher and more rigorous standards and require school councils to use them to fulfill curriculum policy requirements; amend KRS 160.345 to clarify school council curriculum policy authority.

More on Kentucky’s experience with Common Core:

Core Defense

Core Pioneers

Kicking PARCC to the Curb

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Charter Legislation Filed

As predicted by Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, legislation allowing charter schools in Kentucky has been filed for this legislative session.

Kentucky is one of 8 states that doesn’t allow charter schools, and in spite of two decades of steady education progress, there is some pressure to authorize charters for districts with a significant number of “low-performing” schools.

Holliday has suggested probably allowing four or five charters to start, and the most likely location would be Jefferson County Public Schools.

Here’s the summary of the bill, which includes the current House sponsors:

HB 174/LM/AA (BR 237) – B. Montell, R. Benvenuti III, J. Fischer, M. Harmon, A. Koenig, S. Lee, J. Miller, T. Moore, D. Osborne, D. St. Onge, R. Webber

AN ACT relating to charter schools and making an appropriation therefor.
Create new sections of KRS Chapter 160 to describe the intent of the General Assembly and the purposes of authorizing public charter schools; define terms; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission and identify membership selection and responsibilities of members; outline the requirements and limitations on the establishment of charter schools including identification of charter school authorizers; describe responsibilities of authorizers; describe charter school application, renewal, and revocation processes; establish the Kentucky Public Charter School Commission trust fund and identify uses of the fund; create a new section of KRS Chapter 159 to identify student enrollment and withdrawal requirements to be followed by a charter school; create a new section of KRS Chapter 161 to identify employment conditions for charter school staff; create a new section of KRS Chapter 157 to require local, state, and federal funds to be distributed to charter schools using formulas and allocation processes used in public schools; amend KRS 161.220 to include a teacher employed by a board of directors of a public charter school as a member within the state retirement system; amend KRS 161.220 to include employees of boards of directors of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system; amend KRS 78.510 to include noncertified employees of public charter schools in the state-sponsored retirement system.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Charters, Pensions, and Funding

Those are the Big 3 issues identified by Commissioner Terry Holliday for the 2015 legislative session.

Holliday outlined his thoughts on the 2015 session in a December post on his blog.

He notes that if charters are adopted at all, it will likely be a small pilot program that would allow for a handful of charters in districts with especially troubling achievement gaps (likely JCPS).

The Prichard Committee has been reviewing the research on charters and will likely weigh-in at some point, too.

Teacher pension reform has been and will continue to be a hot legislative topic.

Essentially, the Kentucky General Assembly balanced the state budget for years in part by under-funding the Kentucky Teacher Retirement System.

Now, their negligence has caught up with them and teachers may see benefit changes or reductions in future payments by way of adjusted (down) cost-0f-living increases.

Holliday also says that while the session is not a budget session, some funding issues may surface.

Another potential topic of interest is allowing school systems to merge in order to maximize financial efficiency.

Tune in this session for more on the big education issues facing Kentucky policymakers.

For more on education policy and politics in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

Pension Reform in 2015?

Kentucky legislators will consider a number of plans designed to reform the state’s pension plan for teachers, the Courier-Journal reports.

The Kentucky General Assembly has been tinkering with the pension plan in recent years in an attempt to shore up unfunded liabilities.

Proposals this year would seek to adjust future benefit payments and decrease cost-of-living increases.

The shortfall is a result of lack of proper funding over time by the General Assembly.

Some proposals would continue the practice of using borrowing through bonds to fund pension obligations, but it is likely that changes to benefits will also be required.

According to the report, a number of lawmakers oppose additional bonds to fund the system and are looking at more significant reform.

From the story:

So far, legislators have pre-filed at least four bills that would alter some aspect of teacher pensions, and leaders from both the House and Senate say any bonding needs to be paired with reforms.

“There is not a lot of enthusiasm for borrowing more money to pay off the KTRS debt without structural changes accompanying that effort,” said Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Seeking Teacher Voice

Kentucky Education Report wants to hear what teachers in Kentucky have to say!

Too often in discussions of education reform, teacher voices are left out.

I’ve written about what’s going on in Kentucky from a policy perspective, but want to share what teachers are saying about things like PGES, Common Core in Kentucky, and other issues that impact the teaching profession.

To share your story, submit articles or proposed topics to andy@spearsstrategy.com

Looking forward to adding the voices of Kentucky teachers to Kentucky Education Report.

For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

Will Kentucky Be in the Top 20 by 2020?

That’s the question asked annually by a Prichard Committee analysis of key education indicators. The goal of the Prichard Committee is to have Kentucky among the Top 20 in the nation in key education indicators by 2020.  According to a press release announcing the most recent analysis of where Kentucky stands, there is some good news.  The state is on track to be in the Top 20 nationally in six key indicators of education success by 2020. This include number of AP credits, reading scores, and teacher salaries.

Here’s the entire release from Prichard:

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Moving Kentucky into the top tier of states in key areas of
education by 2020 will require a hard push for improvement in the next six
years, according to a new report from the Prichard Committee for Academic
Excellence.

The 2014 update of the Committee’s “Top 20 by 2020” found
Kentucky’s performance in six categories to be on track to reach the goal. These
include reading scores, Advanced Placement credits and teacher
salaries.

But other indicators show reason for concern. The report noted
that Kentucky lost ground in the math achievement of eighth-grade students and
the share of higher education costs that families must pay. The state’s
performance also showed no net improvement in total higher education funding or
bachelor’s degrees earned in science, technology, engineering and
math.

The state’s ranking in other areas showed some improvement, but not
at a rate sufficient to reach the Top 20 by 2020. These include the number of
adults with a high school diploma, preschool enrollment, per-pupil funding and
adults with a bachelor’s degree.

The Prichard Committee began its Top 20
measurements in 2008, when it issued a challenge to the state to accelerate the
improvement of its education system. The latest report is the third update of
the initial measurement. The update is available here.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday applauded the report for highlighting Kentucky’s
progress in areas like reading, Advanced Placement and teacher salaries, and for
also providing a clear roadmap of the areas that need further attention going
forward.

“We are proud of the progress Kentucky students and educators
have made the past several years as they have embraced more rigorous standards
and become more focused on college- and career-readiness,” Holliday said. “At
the same time, the report confirms what we already know:  there is still much
work to be done. We need to be making faster gains in key content areas like
mathematics and science while also continuing to close achievement gaps so that
all students have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in life. We are
committed to making continuous progress, and are grateful for partners like the
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence for joining us in this critical
work.”

Bob King, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education,
noted the state’s increase in bachelor’s degrees, from 44th to 39th in the last
six years, and expressed the importance of partnerships to work toward the
Prichard Committee’s 2020 goal.

“The steady improvement in bachelor degrees or higher and adults with a high school diploma is welcome news to Kentucky’s economic future. We look forward to working alongside Prichard and our other partners to make even greater gains in the future.”

The update
also noted the Committee’s three overarching priorities for Kentucky
education:
·         A strong accountability system that measures the
performance of students, teachers, principals and postsecondary
graduates;
·         Adequate funding;
·         Sustained and expanded
engagement of parents, community members and businesses in support of
schools.

“It is great to see the areas where we are making good progress
but we still have a lot of work to do. We will continue to monitor these areas
and look forward to evidence of more forward progress in the 2016 report,” said
Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee.

Find more on Kentucky education from the Prichard Blog

An Overview of PGES

In the 2014-15 school year, every Kentucky teacher will be evaluated using the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES). But, what is PGES and what does it mean for teachers?

This policy brief is designed to provide an overview of PGES — what it means, where it came from, and where teacher evaluation is headed in Kentucky.

The new evaluation system is a component of the “Next-Generation Professionals” pillar of Kentucky’s Unbridled Learning reform, passed in 2009 as Senate Bill 1. The system was field tested in limited districts from 2010 – 2013, and in the 2013 – 2014 school year, all districts
statewide piloted PGES. While all teachers will be measured by PGES in 2014 –2015, districts will not be required to use PGES evaluations for personnel decisions until the 2015 – 2016 school year.

PGES has been phased-in over time and will continue to be refined throughout the process.

PGES Timeline:

Phase 1: 2010-11
25 districts participated in a Field Test of PGES.

Phase 2: 2011-13
55 districts participated in a Field Test of PGES.

Phase 3: 2013-14
All districts participated in a Pilot of PGES (a minimum of 10 percent of schools per district).

Phase 4: 2014-15
Statewide implementation of PGES. Districts choose whether or not to use PGES for personnel decisions, but are not required to by the State.

Phase 5: 2015-beyond
Statewide implementation of PGES for personnel decisions. The system moves into the Unbridled Learning accountability model.

What’s in PGES?

PGES includes five domains for evaluating teachers: planning and preparation,
classroom environment, instruction, professional responsibility, and student growth.

  • The educator’s overall performance rating is determined by “professional practice” and “student growth” ratings, producing an ultimate evaluation of exemplary, accomplished, developing, or ineffective.
  • Four domains – planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibility – contribute to a professional practice rating of exemplary, accomplished, developing, or ineffective.
  • The local and state student growth metrics contribute to a student growth rating of high, expected, or low.

 

Table 1: PGES Structure and Sources of Evidence for Each Domain

Overall Performance Rating

(Exemplary, Accomplished,   Developing, Ineffective)

Professional Practice Rating

(Exemplary, Accomplished,   Developing, Ineffective)

Student   Growth Rating
(High, Expected, Low)

Planning   and Preparation

Classroom Environment

Instruction

Professional Responsibility

Student Growth

1) Pre and Post Conferences

2) Professional Growth Plans

3) Self Reflection

4) Lesson Plans

1) Observation

2) Student Voice Survey

3) Professional Growth Plans

4) Self Reflection

1) Observation

2) Student Voice Survey

3) Professional Growth Plans

4) Self Reflection

1) Pre and Post Conferences

2) Professional Growth Plans

3) Self Reflection

4) Lesson Plans

1) Local student growth goals

2) State student growth percentiles

Source: Kentucky Department of Education

What do the domains mean?

Student Growth

All Kentucky teachers will have “rigorous, locally-determined student growth goals, developed collaboratively between the teacher and evaluator.” Additionally, 4th – 8th grade English and math teachers will have a state growth measure based on student growth percentiles (change in an individual student’s performance over time) on state K-PREP tests.

Observations

Each district in Kentucky decides how many and what kinds of administrator observations will occur during a teacher’s summative cycle. These observations will be aligned with the Kentucky Framework for Teaching. Administrator observations are part of an educator’s overall professional practice rating. Teachers may also receive formative feedback from peer observations to help improve their practice.

Student Voice Survey

Third through 12th grade students provide formative feedback to teachers through an online survey, reporting on their classroom experiences including teaching practices and learning conditions. Student voice surveys are included in an educator’s overall professional practice rating.

Self Reflection and Professional Growth

Teachers self reflect on their instructional planning, lesson implementation, content knowledge, beliefs, and dispositions for the purpose of self-improvement. The goal of self-reflection is to improve teaching and learning through ongoing thinking on how professional practices impact student and teacher learning.

After doing a self-evaluation, teachers will decide on a professional growth goal, around which they will develop an action plan. To narrow their goal, teachers will answer three questions:

  1. What do I want to change about my instruction that will effectively impact student learning?
  2. What personal learning is necessary to make the change?
  3. What are the measures of success?

 

Carol Franks, an effectiveness coach with the Kentucky Department of Education, explained that the first question “really zeroes in about instruction that is going to impact students, the second identifies what teachers need to do to meet the goal, and the third is about what evidence teachers can use to show they have grown professionally.” The professional growth goal also incorporates students’ needs, feedback from observations, and supervisor input.

How will PGES be used?

The teacher’s PGES scores determine the next steps, including an improvement plan and the process for follow-up evaluation. The table below demonstrates:

Table 2: Improvement Plans Based on Teacher Student Growth
and Professional Practice Ratings

Student Growth Rating Professional Practice Rating Improvement Plan
Low Ineffective An up-to-12-month improvement plan   with goals determined by an evaluator, focus on low-performance areas and   another summative evaluation at the end of the plan
Low Developing A one-year directed plan with goals and activities   determined by the evaluator with input from the teacher, goals that focus on   the low performance/outcome areas, a formative review annually and a   summative review at the end of the plan
Low Accomplished or Exemplary A two-year self-directed plan with goals set by the   teacher with evaluator input, one goal must focus on the low outcome area and   an annual formative review
Expected or High Ineffective A one-year   directed plan with goals determined by the evaluator and activities   determined by the evaluator with input from the teacher, goals that focus on   the low performance/outcome areas, a formative review annually, and a   summative review at the end of the plan
Expected or High Developing A two-year self-directed plan with goals and activities   set by the teacher with evaluator input, goals must focus on the low   performance/outcome area and an annual formative review
Expected or High Exemplary A three-year   self-directed plan with goals set by the teacher with evaluator approval,   activities are directed by the teacher and implemented with colleagues, an   annual formative review and a summative review at the end of the third year

Source: KentuckyTeacher.org

By the 2015 – 2016 school year, the new evaluation system is intended to inform all personnel decision-making by schools, districts and the state, such as support for professional learning, additional compensation, raises, tenure, certification, and release decisions. The State will make approval of local evaluation systems contingent on integration of evaluations into personnel
decisions.

What’s next?

This is the first year every teacher will experience PGES. Through field tests, the process has been revised and refined. The next hurdle will be the development and implementation of improvement plans. Then, the mandate that districts use the information to inform personnel decisions in the 2015-16 year takes effect. District adaptation to that mandate could fundamentally change the way teachers are compensated and may inform professional development, hiring practices, and dismissal procedures.

*The research in this report was compiled by Colleen Maleski, a graduate student in education policy. Most of the information was compiled from the Kentucky Department of Education and KentuckyTeacher.org.

Beyond the Test: A Kentucky Experiment

Over at Tennessee Education Report there’s an article featuring highlights from a piece written by teacher Ezra Howard in Bluff City Ed. Howard notes that the current model of testing doesn’t work well for many students and argues for a move to a portfolio-based model of assessment.

Now, there’s this piece at NPR noting that in one school district in Kentucky, schools are moving toward a form of portfolio assessment.  Early results show this method of assessment holds some promise.

Here are the highlights from the NPR story:

Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core and the tests that align with it. This spring, the 1,700-student Danville district thinks it’s found a better way to teach the Core.

Danville has moved to performance-based assessments.  And at one middle school, here’s what that looks like:

The entire curriculum at this school has been redesigned around interdisciplinary projects, which take several weeks to complete. The English and social studies seventh-grade PBATs were group projects that took place in the fall.

One by one, the students stand and give a 20-minute solo presentation with a PowerPoint or video. Separately, they’ve handed in 15-page research papers. They’re giving these presentations to panels of judges made up of teachers from other grades or the high school, officials from a neighboring district, education students from the University of Kentucky, and fellow students.

I watch as student after student confidently answers questions about the steps of the scientific method, experimental design, math concepts like mean and median, and, most impressively, how the project relates to his or her life. And they listen respectfully to each other, giving helpful feedback.

Most projects are graded “outstanding” or “competent.” A few are judged “needs revision,” which means the students will keep working on them until they pass muster.

Better than the PARCC?

What makes the Danville experiment particularly noteworthy is that Kentucky was out ahead of the nation on adoption of the Common Core State Standards for English and math. Swann believes the standards are worthwhile, but thinks schools can do better than the tests that go with them. Though the new Common Core tests have been touted as improvements over what they replaced, she says they are really “the same old multiple choice,” and adds, “I feel like on a standardized test you’re really showing what kids don’t know.”

If performance-based assessment is so good, why keep standardized tests?

Of course, there are reasons U.S. schools have gravitated toward standardized tests instead. They’re (relatively) cheap, easily administered, and they carry the promise of some kind of “objective” measure. In other words, they’re “standardized.”

Growing Support?

The chief state school officers in Kentucky and eight other states have formed a group known as the Innovation Lab Network. These states have adopted performance-based learning as one of their “critical attributes” for a successful school. (The other states are California, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin.)

Several of these states are moving to include a performance-assessment option in public schools. Vermont is taking similar steps, and there is a New England Secondary School Consortium of 400 high schools using it as well.

In other words, a state can have both Common Core State Standards AND “authentic assessment.”

And while for now, the kids in Danville still use the state test as well, there’s a move in the legislature to allow exemptions for districts that implement performance-based testing.

Moving toward a hybrid model, where performance-based assessment becomes the primary means of assessment and standardized tests are used at key checkpoints in a child’s educational career, could be the educational wave of the future.

Yes, there are costs associated with administering and grading these assessments.  And they don’t easily fit into existing statistical “growth models” for teacher evaluation. But, shifting toward performance-based testing could facilitate a shift in the way teachers are evaluated — where teachers are assessed based on the actual, demonstrated growth of the students they actually teach.

Much is said in the world of education policy about the importance of putting students first and not doing what is convenient or expedient for adults. Performance-based assessment is student-focused and sets a high standard for teachers and school leaders. As Kentucky continues its exploration of this model, surely there are lessons that can be applied across the country.

For more on Kentucky education politics and policy, follow @KYEdReport