Scaling is All the Rage, but How Do You Make It Happen?

By Felicia Sullivan
March 13, 2020

It’s fall 2017 in New Hampshire. The state’s Performance Assessment for Competency-based Education (PACE) system is entering its third year. Using this alternative state accountability system, 150 teachers in nine school districts have created 14 performance assessment tasks in mathematics, English language arts (ELA) and science. The tasks have been validated against standardized state tests with the ambition to bring performance assessments to all students in the state across all disciplines. A primary goal of PACE is to ensure that students demonstrate their content knowledge to gain academic credits and graduate.

The thing is, content knowledge just isn’t enough. Knowing stuff is great, but what can you do? Our students will face futures where essential skills like self-direction, collaboration, communication and creativity will be critical to navigating college, career and community life. This is why educators in New Hampshire are pushing beyond the content knowledge prioritized in PACE to build those skill sets we know are valuable to employers, colleges and communities. New Hampshire calls these Work Study Practices (WSPs).

Drawing from a set of development frameworks published in 2015 by the Center for Innovation in Education (CIE) and the Education Policy Improvement Center, educators are working to embed the instruction and assessment of essential skills into specific performance tasks. Performance tasks require students to apply their knowledge and skills at defined levels to demonstrate their proficiency. Just like in the real world, these skills are integrated into the content areas such that students learn to work and study in ways that support their success, not just as content experts but as communicators, collaborators and creators.

Scaling up these approaches across an entire state was no small task. It required innovative partnerships among organizations and leaders who were content to start small and move strategically and incrementally. For example, in the fall of 2017, none of the 14 PACE performance tasks included assessment of WSPs. Not one. But in 2018 a partnership of educators and researchers including JFF (Jobs for the Future), the New Hampshire Learning Initiative, the Center for Innovation in Education, the New Hampshire Department of Education and KnowledgeWorks, supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, recognized the tremendous potential to support kids to develop 21st-century skills by scaling and diffusing these work-study practices, so they put a plan in play to do just that.

Through a combination of research, invitation, targeted supports, professional development and technical assistance, they built the will for the innovation and the platforms and processes to execute it. By the fall of 2019, there were 112 performance tasks in the PACE system — a growth rate of 800%. 51 of these tasks provided information on how proficient a student was in at least one WSP and six tasks instructed students on the essential skill of self-direction.

How did they do this? More pointedly, in a state like New Hampshire with its long history of strong local control and unfunded mandates, how did these partners get so much traction so quickly? In future blog posts, we’ll share two key mechanisms that appear critical to the diffusion and scaling of work-study practices in New Hampshire. These mechanisms go beyond the state’s PACE system and involve strategic, timely and individualized supports that encourage schools and educators to join the effort at a time and in a manner that matches their unique context.

If you’d like to find out more about the work on scaling deeper learning in New Hampshire, visit our web-based project Building Essential Skills Today (BEST) for the Future.


Felicia M. Sullivan, Ph.D. is an Associate Research Director at JFF (Jobs for the Future). Her research interests include human development and organizational learning towards system change as well as the effective translation of research and evidence through cross-sector collaboration. She is currently researching deeper learning outcomes for high school students and the diffusion of innovation and scaled impact. Email: Twitter: @feliciasullivan.

This project is supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, JFF, and KnowledgeWorks.


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