WNPR

New Haven Among School Districts Promoting Performance-Based Tests

Dec 5, 2016

Federal and state laws require students to take several standardized tests each year, but critics argue that these so-called high stakes tests aren't a reliable way to see how well students know certain subjects.

Schools in New Haven are among many in Connecticut and throughout the region that's been giving its students a different kind of assessment -- one that's based on performance.

Here's how it works: Students work throughout the year creating small projects that show what they're learning.

"You're building off of what you learned as a student and how well you can perform," said Wayde Whichard, a junior at the Metropolitan Business Academy high school.

"When you share the work that you're doing as a student with your parents and with your teacher," he said, "it's really more effective than just going over why you have a C, or why you have an F in that class. That shows that the work that you're doing is important, and it shows how you actually completed that work."

Contrast this with a traditional test like the SAT, which is loaded with multiple choice questions and is time-sensitive. 

"Performance-based gives you a better measurement as to what you're able to accomplish," said Metropolitan senior Malachi Bridges. "I feel like the SAT measures how good you can guess, and how well you can think under pressure."

Connecticut has taken steps to reduce the number of standardized tests students take. But the SAT is mandated for all tenth graders in the state, and other similar tests are required in other grades.

Quentin Robinson is a professor at Southern Connecticut State University. He said that performance-based tests just make more sense in the long run.

"At the end of the day, all we want to do is make these students, or help these students, move from these little holding societies to move into the general society and be successful," Robinson said.

The big difference, he said, is that performance assessments are integrated into the learning process, as opposed to being a thing taken after something has been learned. This method is much more labor intensive and it can be hard to make it work for all students. But research from many studies has shown it to be a more effective way to know how well students are doing.