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Thursday / September 20

Assessing 21st Century Skills

21st century skills

Contributed by Laura Greenstein21st century skills

As you read the following statements, think about whether you agree or disagree.

  1. Education is not the same as it used to be.
  2. Children are growing up in a world that is different from the past.

If you agree, as many educators do, then why are we still measuring students with tests that originated in style and purpose during the Han Dynasty?

It is easy to cheat on test questions that have one correct answer, but in the real world, there is often more than one right answer. Based on this, rather than relying on traditional tests, it is far better to ask students to find solutions to authentic problems, synthesize ideas, produce something practical, and create original works. Some balk at this, arguing that assessing these learning outcomes does not come with the same validity and reliability as traditional tests. Yet there is enough information from global groups such as OECD, P21, and the ATC21S at the University of Melbourne to accurately define 21st century skills.

The assessment of skills such as creativity, collaboration, digital literacy, global understanding, and work ethic is the greater challenge. Yet it is possible to disaggregate these into measurable nuggets. For example, creativity has multiple elements including originality, flexibility in thinking, and fluency in producing a number of ideas/products. Each of these can then be assessed for novelty, feasibility, variety, etc.

Subsequently, the use of clear and specific rubrics, checklists, learning progressions, and learning logs can gauge the strength of these qualities and uncover student’s thinking. Incorporating multiple assessable skills in project-based learning (describe the problem, identify learning targets, develop a plan, select resources, document steps along the way, and the final product/presentation) can be self-, peer-, and teacher-assessed. Using purposeful technologies such as Socrative, Padlet, Edmodo, and Google Docs can differentiate assessment, encourage students to ask questions, post responses, share ideas, and work collaboratively. A scanner or robo-grader cannot measure these complex processes.

If we truly value 21st century skills and want to give these ideas more than superficial consideration, then it is time to develop assessment models to support them. You can learn more about these ideas in Assessing 21st Century Skills: A Guide to Evaluating Mastery and Authentic Learning.

What do you think? What are your methods for assessing 21st Century skills?

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Written by

Laura Greenstein has been an educator for over 30 years serving as a teacher, department chair, and school leader in multiple grades and subjects. She combines this background with her experience as a school board member and professional development specialist to bring fresh and original ideas to educators about teaching, learning, and assessing. She presents at workshops and conferences locally and nationally. As an adjunct professor at the University of New Haven and the University of Connecticut she teaches Human Development and Assessment to undergraduate and graduate students. She has a B. S. from the University of Connecticut, an M.S. from the State University of New York at Oneonta in education, a 6th year from Sacred Heart University in administration, and an Ed.D. from Johnson and Wales University in Educational Leadership. Her website, Assessment Network, is a valuable source of information on issues and topics in assessment. She is the author of What Teachers Really Need to Know About Formative Assessment and Assessing 21st Century Skills.

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