Assessment Flexibility for States under ESSA: Highlights from New Hampshire’s Innovative Assessment Application

Assessment Flexibility for States under ESSA

Highlights from New Hampshire’s Innovative Assessment Application

New Hampshire was one of three U.S. entities that submitted an application for flexibility under the Every Student Succeeds Act (Section 1204: Innovative Assessment and Accountability Demonstration Authority) in the first application window. Broadly, this authority allows states to pilot an innovative assessment system in a subset of schools for up to seven years, as states scale the assessment system statewide. We and our colleagues at Knowledge Works with generous support from the Nellie Mae Foundation developed a suite of resources (found at to help states plan for this opportunity. New Hampshire’s application is based on a history of success in implementing a system of local and common assessments for school accountability known as PACE—Performance Assessments for Competency Education. The Center for Assessment has served as the lead technical partner of PACE since New Hampshire began piloting this system in March 2015, when it began as a federal waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act and then the Every Student Succeeds Act. This post provides key highlights from the New Hampshire application.

The primary goal of PACE is to improve student outcomes by transforming instruction and assessment in classrooms across the state. The application describes the following key components that the New Hampshire Department of Education (NH DOE) believes will help to achieve better results for all students:

  • Explicit involvement of local educational leaders in designing and implementing the assessment system;
  • Intense and reciprocal support for local districts involved in this initiative that will include technical, policy, and practical guidance;
  • Competency-based education approaches to instruction, learning, and assessment as a purposeful approach for ensuring that all students, from the most advanced to the most challenged, move on only when they have mastered critical knowledge and skills; and
  • Instructionally-relevant, high-quality performance-based assessments, alongside periodic administration of the New Hampshire Student Assessment System (NH SAS) and SAT assessments of state standards in math and English language arts (ELA), for the purpose of tracking and reporting the progress of students, schools, districts, and educators.

Federal statutory requirements set a high standard of quality for any state proposing an innovative assessment system. The following table provides four of the most central requirements to the application and New Hampshire’s responses.

Requirement New Hampshire Response
Assessment Quality  The NH DOE employs a multi-pronged approach for ensuring the technical quality of the PACE assessments, including closely monitoring accuracy and consistency in scoring of student work. These approaches have been reviewed and approved by the PACE Technical Advisory Committee and the U.S. Department of Education for the past three years.
Comparability  Results of the PACE assessment system are comparable with the statewide assessment system. Annual evaluations of comparability are consistently strong. The NH DOE and its technical advisors have received considerable national recognition for the ways in which they have monitored and evaluated comparability among PACE districts and between PACE and non-PACE districts.
Scale Statewide  In the “Live Free or Die” State, the NH DOE has tremendous respect for local control.  The NH DOE plans to offer multiple entry points into PACE ranging from high-quality professional learning opportunities for all New Hampshire educators to full implementation of the PACE performance assessment system with the eventual goal of having all schools providing personalized and deeper learning opportunities for all NH students.
Demographic Diversity & Similarity This guardrail ensures that the innovative assessment system is not earmarked for certain types of districts to the exclusion of others. The current PACE districts are already highly representative of New Hampshire as a whole and will continue to be so as PACE reaches additional schools and districts.

New Hampshire is excited to continue to operate and expand PACE without having to submit a new waiver application every year.  Having the statutory authority to operate and sustain PACE for up to seven years will allow the SEA and LEA leaders to focus on building sustainable strategies to improve and expand PACE.  New Hampshire’s application captures the vision for an innovative assessment system that allows for greater personalization and fidelity to the competency-based model of education the state has adopted.