A Possible Solution To A Pressing Problem…

In 1997 the New York State Performance Consortium was founded to give a handful of district schools an alternative method in which to evaluate its students free from most Regents exams though students are still required to pass the English Regents in order to graduate. Performance Based Assessments (PBATs) are comprehensive, multi-step projects, typically with a minimum of two versions (a draft and a final version) that are completed over the course of several weeks. Once the project is completed, students present their project to a panel for discussion and defense. The panels are usually a mix of teachers from the student’s school and a mix of outside personnel, including teachers from other Consortium schools and people working in the appropriate content area. For those who might be critical of such an assessment process, thinking that so many cooks in the kitchen is ripe for corruption, let it be known that participants in final presentations must grade a student’s work using the appropriate rubric across the Consortium.

The Consortium was created because both educators and policymakers agreed that not only were there other ways to evaluate student progress outside of standardized exams, but that there was merit to such alternatives. In the nearly twenty years since, there has been much research which indicates that students who graduate from PBAT schools are not only more successful in college, but complete their degrees in higher numbers. In other words, students who graduate from these programs are more college ready, as measured by their performance in college and not a series of test scores. This conclusion should not be shocking. Most standardized exams, even in their much maligned, Common Core aligned versions, require much less writing than one does in college or career.

Charter schools exist to improve educational outcomes for students and are awarded autonomy in a variety of ways to allow this to happen. The innovations born out of this freedom were meant to be shared with the district. While that has happened on a limited basis, what about the other end of the equation? Shouldn’t charter schools be able to learn from the best practices in district schools, such as those within the New York State Performance Consortium?

Think of the various educational crimes charter schools are often accused of: not serving an equitable percentage of vulnerable populations over zealous test prep, counseling students out, unrealistic demands of parents, and teaching to the tests. As with all stereotypes there may unfortunately be some validity to these claims across the sector, but all of these ills are born of the same symptom: narrow accountability measures. Not only are the methods of accountability confining, but they must be carried out in a brief, five year, time frame. Indeed, one can even make extraordinary gains towards said measures and still have it not be enough.

On paper, schools participating in the New York State Performance Consortium are natural collaborative partners for charter schools. Not only do PBAT schools offer innovative curriculum, many of the schools alter the standard instructional day to do so. There are a number of schools that fall into the intersection of the venn diagram of PROSE and PBAT schools. As a refresher, schools in the PROSE program are able to experiment with class size, length of school day, class periods, and leadership, to name a few, just like charter schools.

If a system of broader and more accountable metrics not only exists and functions for a group of district schools that closely mirror charter schools, why shouldn’t a similar alternative exist for charter schools seeking to measure their student’s progress with a wider ruler?

By Christine Nick, Associate Director, C3S


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