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21st Century Assessment

Posted Jan 07 2009 6:27pm

John Norton (TLN), Cathy Gassenheimer (ABPC) and I were discussing 21st Century assessment the other day. I shared with them the assessments that Ken Kay highlighted during his presentation at Edustat. I'll copy the post below. John Norton says we should be asking ourselves..."What skills and qualities of mind do we want our graduates to have?" Related question: "How do we assess whether students are acquiring these skills and qualities of mind?"

Reading the recent essay on 21st Century assessment published as an  EdWeek op-ed a few weeks ago... which essentially makes the case that we are assessing kids for the wrong skills. The essay is written by a team of folks involved with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

The new assessments will have to do the following:

** Be largely performance-based. We need to know how students apply
content knowledge to critical-thinking, problem-solving, and
analytical tasks throughout their education, so that we can help them
hone this ability and come to understand that successful learning is
as much about the process as it is about facts and figures.

** Make students' thinking visible. The assessments should reveal the
kinds of conceptual strategies a student uses to solve a problem.

** Generate data that can be acted upon. Teachers need to be able to
understand what the assessment reveals about students' thinking. And
school administrators, policymakers, and teachers need to be able to
use this assessment information to determine how to create better
opportunities for students.

** Build capacity in both teachers and students. Assessments should
provide frequent opportunity for feedback and revision, so that both
teachers and students learn from the process.

** Be part of a comprehensive and well-aligned continuum. Assessment
should be an ongoing process that is well-aligned to the target
concepts, or core ideas, reflected in the standards.

Now ask yourself... what would an assessment that captures all of this look like? How could it be standardized? How could it satisfy the current corporate/biz obsession with "metrics"? What is the role
of the professional teacher in making 21st Century assessments even possible?

Here is the post I made over at EduStat--

“There isn’t a school, district, or state that doesn’t start with teacher quality, but part of being a quality teacher is knowing how to teach and assess with 21st Century skills.”

Ken Kay, president of the Partnership of 21st Century Skills, hit the stage running. His ability to tell a story made his presentation come alive for me. It was the first time I had heard him speak, although I am very familiar with his work, so familiar in fact, that I have developed a curriculum around it for teachers in Alabama through a Microsoft Partners in Learning grant.

Every Child
The crux of Ken’s message is that we must bring 21st Century skills to EVERY child in America. What this says to me is that kids with affluent parents who are connected at home will get the digital skills (one component of the needed 21st Century skillset) they need to be successful in the 21st Century. Their parents will make sure they get the experiences needed. It is the kids that do not have connectivity at home, our most at-risk populations, if they do not have access in the classroom then they will simply not master the skills needed to be successful. I do not think teachers have a choice anymore, in fact I would go so far to say we have a moral responsibility of making sure all children are able to master these skills in the safety net of our classrooms. Every student is already living in a Flat World and to prepare them for their world of work, not ours, we need to help them understand how to use the tools to be competitive and collaborative. Unlike us, they need to be skilled at using tools to collaborate across the planet to compete with global markets.


Ken told us that the amount of information is doubling every 24 months and that by 2020 the amount of information will double in every 72 days. What this means is content memorization will simply not work anymore. It is currently impossible; especially at the rate knowledge is changing, to master it all. And even if you did, the content that you learn in your freshman year of college would be outdated by the time you graduate. Literacy in the 21st Century is not based on do you know it- rather, can you find it, analyze it, adapt it, and synthesize it? John Tao says as we move out of the information age into this new era of creativity an individual’s value will not be based on what he knows, but what he can create.

What Do We Need to Teach?
We also need to teach students adaptive expertise. They need to not only be self-directed but have the ability to embrace ambiguity. In their future, our students will be working with teams in virtual spaces that they have never met, on goals that are abstract. They need to understand how to adapt and create. In fact, it is a tough call even trying to predict what they will need as for the first time in educational history we are preparing students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet. What skills do kids need now? They need the ability to redefine themselves and the way they do their work. They need critical thinking skills, self defense tools that will help them redefine the value of the enterprise in which they find themselves.

Ken shared a set that includes communication and collaboration skills, a sense of social responsibility, critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to be self-directed.

The goal of School 2.0 is not to do away with content, but to make sure the outcomes in that content are immersed in 21st Century skills. Ken urges us all to align our educational support systems to create 21st century outcomes in each key support area. And to start the conversation and consensus building on what the skills and outcomes are that we are going to emphasize in our schools, the ones that matter in the 21st Century. Then upgrade our professional development opportunities to enable our teachers to be able to focus on the teaching and assessment aspect of 21st Century teaching.

Colleges of Education Should Lead the Way

We also need to focus on pre-service learning in the development in 21st Century skills. Ken felt that it is appalling that colleges of education are not at the front of this 21st Century skills movement. Teacher preparation programs should be embedding 21st Century skills with their content courses, modeling 21st skills in their instruction and delivery, and helping preservice teachers use Web 2.0 tools to collaborate and build community so that they can get the support they need outside of the classroom once they are on their own. Teachers should share best practice first with each other and then beyond their own schools through virtual learning communities.

What does the intersection of ICT and Core subjects look like?

The litmus test is this- do our kids know how to deal with info they have never seen before? Would they know how to think critically and problem solve when given a scenario that is unfamiliar to them?

Outdated Metrics
Ken also advocated for 21st Century metrics. This version of NCLB needs to have updated metrics built in that will enable students to be prepared for success for the world in which they will live. These new metrics need to not just measure performance but also perform as a globally competitive metric.

An example he gave of a metric that is measuring 21st Century skills is with the Council for the Aid to Education. They are doing important work in creating assessments that measure 21st Century type skills.

The work of the Partnership of 21st Century skills is important if schools want to remain relevant in the lives of the students they teach. We have done a wonderful job of preparing students for the 20th century, for the world of yesterday and today. However, the kids in our classrooms now will not be prepared for the world of work tomorrow if we do not make principled changes in the way we teach and learn.

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