By Anya Kamenetz
ate Middle School is a mundane ’70s-era, red-brick building. But what’s happening inside is anything but mundane. I’ve driven the 37 miles from Lexington to see one of the most closely watched efforts in the country to change the way schools assess student learning. Principal Amy Swann and the district’s Superintendent, Carmen Coleman, have completely overhauled their school’s educational philosophy, moving away from standardized tests toward an approach called performance-based assessment.
Kentucky was the first state in the nation to adopt the Common Core and the tests that align with it. But this spring, the 1,700-student Danville district will skip those tests.
On a Wednesday afternoon in late March, I am waiting in the whitewashed hallway outside Diania Henderson’s seventh-grade science class to see performance assessment in action. The seventh graders are sporting dresses, jackets, and ties. When the end-of-day bell rings, they file into the basement cafeteria, quiet and tense with only a few poking each other in the sides, for a snack of cheese crackers and Capri Suns. It is the day of the Science and Math Performance-Based Assessments, or as everyone calls them, the PBATs.