Performance Assessments Succeed in New York

K-12 Testing

FairTest Examiner, October 2012

Performance-based assessment works well for the types of students that test-driven “reforms” are supposed to benefit but so often fail, according to a report from the New York Performance Standards Consortium. The Consortium’s assessments are created by teachers and rooted in project-based curricula, teaching and learning. Its 2012 report, Education for the 21st Century, demonstrates that Consortium classrooms significantly outperform those in other New York City public schools while serving a similar population. The report includes examples of Performance Based Assessment Tasks (PBATs) used across the network of schools.  

The student population of the Consortium’s 26 public schools located in New York City mirrors the city’s student body (two schools are outside NYC). They have nearly identical shares of blacks, Latinos, English language learners and students with disabilities. However, the Consortium dropout rate is half that of NYC public schools. Graduation rates for all categories of students are higher than for the rest of NYC, while Consortium graduation rates for ELLs and students with disabilities are nearly double the city’s.

In 2011, 86% of African American and 90% of Latino male graduates of Consortium schools were accepted to college. National averages are only 37% and 43%, respectively. Ninety-three percent of Consortium grads remain enrolled in four-year colleges after the first two years, compared with an average of 81% nationally. Yet, Consortium students are far more likely to be low-income than the U.S. average. These data provide strong evidence of the predictive validity of the schools’ graduation assessments.  

The Consortium gathers a wide array of useful indicators about its schools. For example, its students have fewer discipline issues. Suspensions at Consortium schools are 5%, while they are 11% for NYC high schools and 12% for city charter schools. Consortium classrooms also have much greater teacher stability than the average city school. Turnover rates are 15% for Consortium schools, 25% for charters, and a staggering 58% for NYC high schools overall.

Consortium schools follow the same admissions process as other non-exam New York City high schools. Students enter Consortium high schools with lower ELA and math average scores than citywide averages.

To “demonstrate college and career readiness and to qualify for graduation,” all Consortium programs require students to complete four performance-based assessment tasks (PBATs). These include an analytic essay, a social studies research paper, a science experiment, and an applied mathematics problem. They include both written and oral components.
The Consortium has permission from the state Department of Education to administer only one of the state graduation tests, English Language Arts. The PBATs, generally completed in 11th and 12th grades, replace the Regents exams in other subjects and for school accountability.

Education for the 21st Century explains that the PBATs “emerge from class readings and discussion. In some classes, the tasks are crafted by the teacher and in other instances by the student.” For example, in literature each student must write and then orally defend an analytic paper based on defined requirements.  The report includes samples of the wide range of literature and interests addressed by the students, as well as similar samples for the other required tasks. In the oral defense for each PBAT, the student responds to questions from a panel of teachers and outside experts.

All the tasks and defenses completed for the common graduation requirement are evaluated using Consortium-wide scoring guides ("rubrics"). The report includes the rubrics used to evaluate tasks and defenses. These well-developed assessment standards, written and revised as needed by Consortium teachers, allow accurate evaluations of student work across schools. Samples of the work are independently re-scored (“moderation”) to evaluate both reliability of scoring and the challenge level of teacher assignments.

To fulfill an NYC mandate for periodic assessments throughout the year in English language arts and math, the Consortium has developed tasks for its schools to use across the curriculum, including science and social studies. These help prepare students for the graduation assessments.

Each school maintains collections of work that chronicle a student's growth.  The college persistence data show that the extensive reading, writing and long-term planning required for the performance assessments prepare students well for higher education.

• The report is available at
• See also the Webinar on Performance Assessment, sponsored by the Forum on Educational Accountability. It features Ann Cook of the Consortium, Sally Thomas of the Learning Record, and Monty Neill from FairTest.