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Assessing 21st century skills

Key Takeaways
  • Are

If we’re going to teach Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

literacy skills in schools, we need ways of determining whether or not those

skills have been learned by students. The Partnership for 21st Century


notes that answering the question ‘How do we measure 21st

century learning?

‘ will be critical as we try to prepare students

who can be productive citizens in the new technology-suffused,

globally-interconnected economy.

Over in the United Kingdom, the British government’s Key Stage 3 ICT Literacy


for 12- and 13-year-old aims to assess higher-order thinking

skills in conjunction with ICT use. For example, as part of a task to draft and

publish a journalistic article, students must use search engines to collect and

analyze employment data, e-mail sources for permission to publish their

information, and present data in graphic and written formats using word

processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software, all within a simulated

computing environment. Student actions are tracked by the computer and assessed

for both technical and learning skills such as finding things out,

developing ideas, and exchanging and sharing information. If

you’re interested, you can download a

demonstration file and see for yourself


Other interesting projects in the U.K. include Northern Ireland’s Council for

the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment A-Level Examination in the Moving


(students must create

and assess digital film clips

), the Ultralab International Certificate in

Digital Creativity

(students must defend their digitally-produced film,

artwork, and music to a panel of peers and professionals), and the eViva e-portfolio initiative (online

space where students can receive feedback on their research and communication,

data analysis, and presentation skills). If anyone in the U.K. is reading this

post and has experience with any of these assessments, I’d love to hear your

perspectives in the comments section.

Over here in the United States, ETS also is

attempting to create new assessments of 21st century learning skills. I had a

chance last fall to get a personal demonstration of the ETS ICT Literacy Assessment. Like the Key

Stage 3, ETS’ assessment is a scenario-based test. This is a completely new

paradigm for ETS, which the ETS representative said is challenging but also

exciting for its psychometricians to try and wrap their heads around. I

encourage you to visit the

demo site and see how the test works

. It may not be ideal, but I think it’s

a lot further from your typical standardized test than one might expect. It’s an

interesting attempt to blend both the technology and information literacy skills

needed by future generations and at least offers some food for thought. Also

check out the News

and Research

links to find out more about the results from ETS’ pilot tests.

We will see the birth of many new 21st century


in the years ahead. Like these early attempts, most of

these assessments will be performance-based and thus will avoid some of the

objections we hear about current standardized tests. Most, if not all, also will

utilize the multimedia, simulation, and tracking power of digital technologies

to create more authentic assessments of real-life tasks. It should be an

interesting journey.


Much of the information in this post, including some very close paraphrasing,

comes from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills report, Assessment

of 21st Century Skills: The Current Landscape

. If you’re interested in 21st

century learning skills, this report should be an important addition to your

reading list.

Other resources


for 21st Century Learning

  • Assess21
  • Publications
  • Calls to action
  • They Really Ready to Work?

    [Partnership for 21st Century Skills]

  • Tough Choices or Tough Times (executive
  • summary

    or full


    ) [New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce]

  • Rising Above the Gathering Storm (executive summary or full report) [The National
  • Academies]

    This post is also available at the TechLearning blog.


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