Assessing Twenty-First Century Skills in the Classroom

In authentic assessments, students apply knowledge and skills of the discipline to situations that replicate real world challenges.
The measurement of skills is particularly well suited to authentic assessment because meaningful demonstration of skill
acquisition or development requires a performance of some kind.
Yet, we rarely assess, authentically or otherwise, the critical
cross-curricular or process skills such as self-assessment, information literacy, collaboration, or metacognitive skills. One reason for this is that these skills are infrequently included in state goals or standards.
How would one measure metacognitive abilities or leadership skills or the ability to evaluate the accuracy and relevancy of information?
Because skill development so naturally fits with authentic assessment, it makes sense to adapt the four-step process of creating authentic assessments.

Step 1: Writing Skills as Standards

The  four-step process of creating authentic assessments begins with identifying a good standard, including writing it in observable and measurable language.  The assessment questions should not use verbs such as “understand” or “know.”
Teachers reasonably ask, “What if what I really want is for my students to understand a concept or process? How can I state that in an observable form and capture it authentically?
A simple, direct approach to address that question is to ask “How could the students demonstrate that they understand the concept or process? What would that look like?” 
For example, if you want students to understand the differences between books, periodicals, and databases, you could ask, “How could they show me they understand the differences between them?” The students could describe the differences between books, periodicals, and databases in a paragraph or two; they could locate each type of resource in a library when asked to; they could identify which type of resource is most likely to contain certain types of information. 
Each of those statements (i.e., describe the differences between books, periodicals, and databases; locate each type of resource in a library; identify which type of resource is most likely to contain certain types of information)  can then serve as a standard to be taught and assessed. They describe observable and measurable behaviors that are important to information literacy.
A similar approach can be followed in writing standards for skills. Do you want students to be reflective learners, good leaders, and information literate citizens? How could you judge whether
or not they are able to do so?
Ask, “What do these skills look like if they are done effectively?”
“What behaviors are commonly exhibited by reflective learners, good leaders, and information literate citizens?” That can help you narrow down broad and often nebulous goals such as “being information literate” into more specific and observable standards. For example, in answering these questions, I would argue that an information
literate person should be able to:

Step 2: Designing Tasks to Assess the Skills

In Step 1, you identified an important skill. How can students demonstrate that they have acquired this skill and apply it in relevant contexts? Give them opportunities to do so. Create simple or
complex tasks by asking questions such as “When would someone ever use this skill?” or “Why would someone ever need to know how to do this?” Some situations identified by answering such questions will be brief, simple tasks commonly performed. For example, one skill I work to develop in my students is the ability to evaluate claims presented in the media or in the course of an informal conversation. This is a skill they will have many opportunities to apply. Are my students prepared to do so? Are they capable of judging the validity of a claim based upon the evidence presented? To assess that, you can present students with brief scenarios in political, scientific, or other contexts in which you ask them to evaluate a claim in light of the accompanying evidence.
More complex task—such as a research paper—can be assigned to students to assess whether or not they can apply the full set of information literacy skills in a meaningful context. To increase the reliability and validity of inferences drawn from student performances on these tasks the assessments should be multiple and varied.

Step 3: Identifying the Criteria for the Skill

Furthermore, just because a student can complete a large task such as a research paper does not in itself indicate proficiency at the complete set of information literacy skills. To determine that, it is necessary to identify the specific characteristics of good performance on that task, that is, the criteria. What are the observable behaviors, the
behavioral indicators, of proficiency on a particular skill? For example, what does it look like to be proficient at framing a good research question? Or, what does good collaborative behavior look like? The characteristics of good collaborative behavior, the criteria on which you would judge student performance, might include behaviors such as
involves others in the task, participates without prompting, seriously considers the ideas of others, and offers helpful feedback.

Step 4: Creating Rubrics for Rating Skill Performance

Once the criteria for a task have been identified, a rubric, or rating scale, can be used to judge how well someone has met the criteria for performance on that skill task. Authentic assessment of skills
does not require a rubric, but the use of rubrics can increase the consistency of application of the criteria (Marzano, 2006).
Additionally, by articulating the criteria and the characteristics
of good performance at each level (descriptors), those learning and performing the skill and those teaching and assessing it will share a clearly defined picture of what proficiency should look like.







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