High schools in New York State are providing their students with opportunities to earn their diplomas through research projects and oral evaluations as an alternative to standardized tests. Research has shown that these evaluation methods administered under the New York Performance Standards Consortium yield higher graduation and college-enrollment rates.

The consortium evaluations are designed to provide schools with a more authentic way of evaluating students than standardized tests. For each class, students undertake a research project in an area of their choice and defend their findings in an oral presentation evaluated by two teachers. The format is similar to those of major research projects and thesis defenses used in universities.

Advocates of consortium evaluations argue they better prepare students for both college and the workplace. Instead of just covering textbook content, students are applying their knowledge and skills and learning the real-world application of their studies. As a result, consortium students are less likely to drop out of college because they are familiar with the expected workload and inquiry-based learning format.

Despite its advantages, consortium evaluations can pose barriers to students applying to colleges which require standardized admission tests. While there are a growing number of colleges making admission tests like the SAT and ACT optional, the vast majority still require them. Consortium students do not perform as well as expected on standardized tests, earning an average score of 878 out of 1600 on the math and critical reading sections of the SAT, and 73 out of 100 on the mandatory New York State’s English Regents exam.

The validity of the consortium model is also criticized in comparison to the more objective model of standardized testing. For example, during the oral defense, critics worry that the evaluators may walk a student through their presentation and not question them on points inaccurately represented.

The New York Performance Standards Consortium models are used in only a handful of schools in the state but have sparked a national conversation on assessment. If the consortium model continues its success in New York, it may be integrated into additional curriculums and more post-secondary institutions may consider it in lieu of standardized admission tests.

Read more:

About the Author: Dustin is a senior account manager with DesignedUX, providing communications and strategy to organizations in education and technology. Dustin is also board member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and contributes as a communications researcher with McMaster University.