Measuring 21st Century Skills

The newly elected National Party in New Zealand has wasted no time in announcing it’s Literacy and Numeracy Crusade as its primary focus for the education sector. They argue “… children will be building the economy and communities we will be living in tomorrow. We must do far better to equip them for the more challenging times ahead, and to ensure they have the basic skills to secure their own and their families’ futures.”

Sadly, the view of what these ‘basic skills’ are appears limited to the traditional 3Rs, and will be addressed through a rigorous regime of standardised testing.

The new government argues that that the first task of our education system should be to ensure that every child from every background can read, write, and do maths at a level that allows them to participate in a modern economy.”

Quite a different view of the skills required to participate in a modern economy put forward in this latest Education Sector report titled Measuring skills for the 21st Century. The report is a response to the fact that leaders in government, business, and higher education are calling for today’s students to show a mastery of broader and more sophisticated skills like evaluating and analyzing information and thinking creatively about how to solve real-world problems. But standing in the way of incorporating such skills into teaching and learning are widespread concerns about whether or not they can be measured.

In this report, Senior Policy Analyst Elena Silva argues that they can indeed be measured accurately and can serve as common metrics of student achievement. Silva examines a number of new assessment models that do this and that demonstrate the potential to measure complex thinking skills at the same time that we measure a student’s mastery of basic skills and knowledge. These emergent models, she concludes, are critical to meeting our educational goals—to ensure that teachers and students can monitor and improve the learning process—and our accountability goals—to ensure that schools are giving all students what they need to succeed.

Starting today there is a week-long online discussion about assessment and 21st century skills which you can sign up for in the Education sector’s discussion room led by Elena Silva, Eva Baker, a professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and Paul Curtis, chief academic officer of New Technology Foundation.

For comparison, here’s the approach that we can expect to see introduced into NZ schools in the near future:

10 thoughts on “Measuring 21st Century Skills

  1. I also seem to be reading a mixed messaged from National’s education policies. They do seem to be focussed on the 3R’s but it’s the standardised testing and comparing children’s “skills” that goes against my understanding of 21st century learning.

    In my blog I have a link to National ’21st century school building plan’ they say that New Zealanders have a right to expect schools that are up to the task of providing our children with the skills and knowledge they need to prosper in the 21st Century. Great news but are we all talking the same 21st century learning? What is Nationals definition I wonder?

    To end on a more positive note, they seem serious about putting money into education where it counts.

  2. I would like to have a little time to read the report but I am too busy collating a milestone report.

    I hate to think that the same sort of thing will happen with National’s Crusade- we will too busy testing to learn new things. I worry about crusades- most often someone else has to die for the crusaders to win. I hope it’s not me or the kids I teach that suffer.

  3. I just feel overwhelming sadness at this. Education is becoming a scapegoat yet again. Rhetoric is not something to base an education system on …
    We are sitting at the cusp of really neat things with our revised NZC, and I sincerely hope teaching to national tests (and subsequent league tables) are not the norm in a couple of years time. There is a high probably it will be.
    There is an old chinese proverb that says “you don’t make the pig grow by measuring it” …. the rationalist preoccupation with testing everything that is important and it is only important if it is quantifiable is crazy!
    I’m with Allanah on this!

  4. The emphasis probably wont be entirely on “measuring” as such that their is growing concern that there are areas where as a nation our levels of competency have dropped due to the inception of NCEA.

    However in saying that I applaud the way NCEA takes into account varying learning styles which is great, but its assessment criteria seems lacking.

    Its uncanny ability to create mediocrity and award students unrealistic measurements of ability and failing to compare them to an international standard seems like a less than ideal system and hardly prepares them for the real world.

  5. Paul- I would be interested to hear from you how NCEA creates mediocrity? If mediocrity was there I doubt it was because of NCEA. If you look inside the standards criteria set by NCEA they are very specific. I would rather that than having a large group of youth leaving school comparing themselves as failures against an ‘international standard’ set by education systems downward spiralling into the 20th century.

    Let’s move forward by learning from the mistakes of others not by repeating them.

  6. I completely agree with Greg and Allanah and there is an extension of the proverb that goes “it doesn’t matter how many times you measure the pig, it doesn’t make it fatter”. The research is clear (Black & Wiliam, 1998; CERI, 2005 for starters) that formative assessment practices are some of the most effective in promoting high student performance and improving equity of student outcomes. I see no mention of Assessment for Learning (AfL) in the National Party statements, despite this being clearly expressed in our superb NZ Curriculum Document (pg.39-40). The move towards national standards counters all positive progress made in the Assessment for Learning community. The reality is national standards result in ‘teaching to a test’ not responding to a student needs and have failed appallingly in countries like The States.

    With respect to NCEA, I believe the qualification is based on excellent principles and offers teachers flexibility in programmes they can tailor make to meet student needs. I also don’t support the notion that it creates mediocrity. When I compare the quality of answers students in my Year 13 chemistry class need to give now, as compared with in the old Bursary tests, there is definitely a more thoughtful response required, needing to stem from a deeper knowledge of the subject. I compare this to just the share quantity of lower level responses required in Bursary (how many Excellence Qs were there?). This becomes even more evident in scholarship. That said, NCEA is not perfect and we need to constructively work together to make the necessary improvements. I therefore hope everyone offers the constructive feedback necessary to make these improvements as the proposed revised standards are made available to schools.

  7. I feel the same fear when I hear of an increasing emphasis on “the basics” – where is the “basics” of digital citizenship, of digital literacy? How will a standardised exam allow students to grow the skills they will need to surive and thrive in a flexible career path including numerous jobs we don’t even know the name of yet?

    I’ve linked to this post from my blog too – a topic close to my heart!

  8. Not all of what National are wanting for education is bad. However, how do you set a national standard? Don’t we already have literacy and numeracy standards based on chronological age, stanine levels, etc? Student progress and achievement is measurable and reportable. Perhaps the reporting could be clearer,as I remember having problems understanding what my son’s PAT results meant. I asked his teacher to explain them to me – problem solved.

    My concern is how we allow students with poor literacy and numeracy skills to continue to progress with their cohort, year in year out, without some sort of major remedial action and support to ensure that when they get to senior school they have the literacy skills to cope with the new language and learning situation they are faced with. Language in Y9 and beyond becomes subject specific and specialised; students move from class to class, from teacher to teacher. The students with low literacy and to some extent low numeracy skills, become discouraged, frustrated and simply disengage. Because they are no longer in a home room situation, it becomes easier for them to “Hide”. It’s not about meeting a national standard, it’s about giving students the skills to be able to learn, at a given level. We have national standards, they are called NCEA L1, L2 and L3.

  9. “…children will be building the economy and communities we will be living in tomorrow. We must do far better to equip them for the more challenging times ahead, and to ensure they have the basic skills to secure their own and their families’ futures.” –I quite agree with this, education in 21st century is unbelievable important. I’d love to read this report in details.

Leave a Reply