Danville Independent School District is looking to sidestep standardized state testing in favor of performance assessment. The Kentucky district of 1,800 students has applied for an exemption from this spring’s state tests in favor of “multidisciplinary, semester-long research projects that students present to panels of teachers plus outside observers, in the manner of a PHD defense, to satisfy the requirements of the Common Core curriculum,” according to hechingerreport.org. The idea is to hold students to real-world metrics that actually matter, much like the intention of the Common Core State Standards.
The Danville model requires students to not only learn content but to prove that they can apply it. For example, students used their math skills to build furniture out of cardboard with no adhesive. The goal was to sustaining a person’s weight. Calculating angles and forces is much more meaningful when you can see it come to life.
Another interesting feature of this approach is students presenting their learning. Traditionally, final exams is how students tie it all together. But in Danville, students are challenged to present on what they’ve came up with — much like we do in meetings and emails. It’s one thing to pick the right answer, it’s another thing to know how to make your case for that answer, and then how that answer fits into the real world. Instead of being told what questions to answer, students can push the limits on how they demonstrate their mastery.
Unfortunately, according to Kentucky’s current accountability system, Danville is still labeled a “needs improvement” district. Though supportive of standardized testing, Superintendent Carmen Coleman says the tests are “limited in their ability to measure the types of skills that the work force of the future will need.” Coleman says she is not backing away from accountability, but looking for better ways to measure student progress.
Educators, how do you feel about this approach? Do you think it would be sustainable in a larger district? Is it worth it to forgo the standardized testing? Would you like to see the rubrics Danville teachers are using?