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Monday, 10th November 2008

Measuring Skills for the 21st Century

Measuring Skills for the 21st Century
Source: Education Sector

When ninth-graders at St. Andrew's School, a private boarding school in Middletown, Delaware, sat down last year to take the school’s College Work and Readiness Assessment (CWRA), they faced the sort of problems that often stump city officials and administrators, but rarely show up on standardized tests, such as how to manage traffic congestion caused by population growth. "I proposed a new transportation system for the city," said one student describing his answer. "It's expensive, but it will cut pollution."

Students were given research reports, budgets, and other documents to help draft their answers, and they were expected to demonstrate proficiency in subjects like reading and math as well as mastery of broader and more sophisticated skills like evaluating and analyzing information and thinking creatively about how to apply information to real-world problems.

Not many public school students take assessments like the CWRA. Instead, most students take tests that are primarily multiple-choice measures of lower-level skills in reading and math, such as the ability to recall or restate facts from reading passages and to handle arithmetic-based questions in math. These types of tests are useful for meeting the proficiency goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and state accountability systems. But leaders in business, government, and higher education are increasingly emphatic in saying that such tests don’t do enough. The intellectual demands of 21st century work, today's leaders say, require assessments that measure more advanced skills, 21st century skills. Today, they say, college students, workers, and citizens must be able to solve multifaceted problems by thinking creatively and generating original ideas from multiple sources of information—and tests must measure students' capacity to do such work.

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