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Test Drive: New Hampshire Teachers Build New Ways to Measure Deeper Learning

Just outside Concord High School, a delivery truck has spilled its chemical supplies. The students’ mission: Investigate the properties of the spill and develop a detailed plan to clean it up safely.

Teenagers wearing safety goggles squat down, sucking up samples of the clear liquid with pipettes. The simulated spill has been “contained” in a fish tank. But the students play along, first by developing some “testable questions” with their partners: How acidic is it? How does it compare with the properties of each substance on the truck?

They’ll have four class periods over the course of several days to collect and record data with assigned partners, and to write up, individually, their plans.

Increasingly, this is what testing looks like in New Hampshire. It’s an activity, much like work students have done in class, though more extensive. They can refer to their notes. What they can’t do is guess.

For more than a decade, schools in the Granite State have been transitioning to competency-based education, in which students are asked to demonstrate mastery of essential skills rather than simply spend a certain amount of time in class and get a minimum passing grade.