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Assessing 21st Century Skills

March 29, 2010

How do you assess collaboration & critical thinking?

One of the issues when focusing on a project-based learning approach is developing appropriate assessments.  If we want to see students using skills like problem solving and creativity, then we have to provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate them.  However, the “system” is not built for this type of end of course assessments.  This is true in Saline, and almost every other school district in the nation. From the feedback I receive from parents and students – they like the current system that provides the opportunity to review and then take the test.  The idea of a couple of large, potentially complex projects being used to assess learning is not one that many students currently find appealing.  For faculty, the current pace of the trimester schedule and covering the course content makes developing and grading projects difficult at best.

The Federal Government is pushing for change in this area.  Last year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “We need tests that measure whether students are mastering complex materials and can apply their knowledge in ways that show that they are ready for college and careers…. We need tests that go beyond multiple choice.”

The other issue facing districts like Saline is that we are preparing many of them for colleges that still focus on the traditional forms of assessment and instruction.   If we develop different assessments that result in scores that don’t function like traditional grades – how will our transcripts be treated?  Pursuing teaching methods that accentuate critical levels of thinking is not consistent with the present grading systems.

Thankfully, many of our faculty are incorporating the project-based approach in and around the traditional assessments. For now, the blend provides our students with the ability to prepare for their end course exams and tests like the ACT, while still providing key experiences that can help build the skills they will need in the future.

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