In Growing Tomorrow’s Citizens in Today’s Classrooms: Assessing 7 Critical Competencies (2019), Cassandra Erkens, Nicole Dimich, and I outline how critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, self-regulation, digital citizenship, and social competence are the necessary skills for students to succeed as future citizens. In the book, we highlight two important, overarching aspects of teaching and learning in the 21st century.
A transformation is happening
The first is that there is a collective shift happening (albeit to varying degrees in various jurisdictions) to the learning goals of the education system that has the means and ends switching places. The priority of schooling had, for decades, centered around content mastery: that subjects were siloed and the focus was on gaining foundational knowledge of that subject discipline. Teachers were the purveyors of that knowledge and would by and large test students on the degree to which they could remember and understand that knowledge.
While certain competencies (i.e. collaboration) might be utilized to differentiate the learning experience, teaching students how to collaborate was not a purposeful goal; that’s changing. Today, schools, districts, states, and provinces are prioritizing competencies (i.e., critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, etc.) as the purposeful outcomes while utilizing subject-specific content to teach those competencies. In other words, instead of using collaboration to acquire content mastery, teachers are using content to teach the skills and processes of collaboration—the means and ends switching places.
Assessment is the engine
The second important aspect we highlight is that assessment is still the engine that drives our work toward these important outcomes. While the outcomes may have shifted, sound assessment practices are no-less important to the successful reaching of these more sophisticated learning goals. In Essential Assessment: Bringing Hope, Efficacy, and Achievement to the Classroom (2017), Cassandra, Nicole, and I outline the six assessment tenets for the Solution Tree Assessment Center (STAC) and submit that a meaningful experience that has long-lasting impact and provides students with more sophisticated outcomes is anchored on sound assessment practices. While the nature of assessments must change, the role of assessment is magnified as teachers move from counting to quality as students use content to think critically, collaboratively, creatively, and so on. These tenets can also be explored here.
The road ahead
This blog post serves as the first in a STAC series focused on what is collectively being called Next Generation Assessment. In subsequent blog posts, our STAC team will take a deep dive into the characteristics of the assessment landscape and how teachers can ensure that the assessments they create and utilize are an accurate match for the depth and breadth of what students are expected to learn, are effectively used to both initiate and certify that learning, and are co-created by students who are active participants in their own experiences. While certainly not easy, our STAC associates—through this blog series—will undoubtedly make it easier for teachers and students to reach these admittedly lofty goals.
The challenge, of course, is that the research in teaching and assessing these competencies is emerging in real time. Unlike previous years where there was a proven track-record that educators could depend on, the research on the nuances of assessing these critical competencies is emerging in real time. That is why, again, the STAC assessment tenets provide such an important foundation; assessment fundamentals are timeless.
Next Generation Assessments, explained
To set-up the series, the remainder of this post is dedicated to the STAC operational definition of next generation assessments and the specific aspects that will run thematically throughout:
Next Generation Assessments empower all learners to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in authentic ways that elicit multi-faceted evidence of the critical competencies necessary for success both now and in the future. Next Generation Assessments are:
- Modern: They are relevant, student-centered, and they integrate content and skills meaningfully. They prioritize reasoning, show the evolution of student thinking, and are fluid and flexible both in format and in execution.
- Authentic: Compelling local and global issues drive both the process and product. The products and processes are grounded in actual events, are cross-disciplinary in nature, and the audience is ultimately those beyond the classroom. Content knowledge is still necessary, as students will need to think about something.
- For ALL learners: Next Generation Assessments are not for the few, the elite, or any other finite group of students. The critical competencies and the adjoining assessments are for all students, educators, teams, site level leaders, parents—all means all.
- Empowering: The default is student choice, meaningfulness, and personalization. The assessments are aligned to skills/concepts that are important, provide student ownership through active involvement and are used to take action. The evidence elicited provides opportunities for specific feedback to support learning (used by teacher teams and students) as well as for certifying that learning has occurred.
- Multi-faceted: Teachers and students strive to create assessments that are multi-step and cross-curricular. Multiple strategies and opportunities (qualitative, quantitative) that offer much more depth and sophistication than one right answer.
- Critical competency focused: Assessments anchor around the timeless skills, dispositions, and literacies that learners need to be successful both now and as adults/public citizens in rapidly changing contexts and circumstances.
- Well-rounded: Besides achievement, next generation assessments embed a love of learning, transferability for lifelong employability, focus on the whole person, and the development of well-rounded human beings. Ideally, students emerge with an always learning disposition, with the persistence and confidence to accomplish personal goals, and with high levels of adaptability.
This is the view from 30,000 feet. The subsequent posts in this blog series will bring to life the ways in which teachers can become next generation assessors and students can become next generation citizens, poised to thrive in a rapidly changing society that creates, to some degree, an unknowable future.