From teachers’ classroom quizzes, mid-term, or final exams to nationally and internationally-administered standardized tests, assessments of students’ knowledge and skills have become a ubiquitous part of the educational landscape. Educators assess students to learn about what they know and can do, but assessments do not offer a direct pipeline into a student’s mind. Assessing educational outcomes is not as straightforward as measuring height or weight; the attributes to be measured are mental representations and processes that are not outwardly visible. Thus, an assessment is a tool designed to observe students’ behaviour and produce data that can be used to draw reasonable inferences about what students know. Deciding what to assess and how to do so is not as simple as it might appear.
How To Design A 21st Century Assessment
Action Step 1: Stop thinking technology first.
Instead, use the best tool to support learning (e.g., feedback, performance, knowledge, creativity, etc.) The task should drive the tool(s) dependent upon what the students need to do for learning. That might be to pick up a pencil, read a print text, FaceTime their grandma who happens to be a veterinarian in Denmark, log onto a library database, send a Tweet to find an expert around a topic they are learning about, etc.
Action Step 2: Give students an authentic choice in how they will demonstrate their learning.
Part of an educator’s charge in the 21st Century is taking what we know about good instruction and apply it to today’s contemporary kid. We’ve done decades of research about how best to teach children and much of the research intersects at instructional methods that allow for personalization of the learning process.
Action Step 3: Provide always-on, asynchronous access to that which is being assessed.
Everything. All the time. Access (and equity of access) is a priority cornerstone in the contemporary classroom. Access to print and digital resources is essential. Kids don’t need to come to school in order to be vessels we fill up with knowledge, that can look up anything on the Internet. A school needs to be the place where knowledge is evaluated now–the how’s and the why’s are so much more important than the what’s–but the what’s have to be available at all times for every student.
The Future Of Educational Assessment
Through the last few decades, pen and paper tests have been the main method used to assess educational outcomes. For literacy and numeracy, this makes reasonable sense, since the learning outcome can be demonstrated in much the same way as the applied skill itself is typically demonstrated. However, for other skills of increasing interest in the education world—such as problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity—this is less the case.
The challenge is how to proceed from the status quo, where system-level assessment using traditional tests is still seen as using good-enough proxies of academic skill, and where testing processes are implemented using traditional methods that everyone finds convenient, systematic, and cost-effective. In addition, increasing interest in education systems’ implementation of 21st-century skills raises new hurdles.