Friday, August 14, 2009

South Dakota Testing 21st Century Skills

Busy time of year for me... only day not at an inservice for this week and next.

THE Journal reports on South Dakota mandating statewide testing in 21st century skills, becoming the first state to explicitly do so. They are using the assessment created by, which is specifically aligned with the NETS standards.

Some quick thoughts:
  • In general, I applaud the move. In the words of Tony Wagner, what gets tested gets taught. In Iowa, while we will push the concept of 21st century skills in the rollout of the Iowa Core, unless there is a test, it will remain a secondary concept to specific skills on the ITBS.
  • The fact that "21st century skills = NETS standards" will raise some eyebrows. It's to say that technology literacy is the only literacy in 21cs. Financial literacy, civic literacy, employability skills, health literacy...? But, if you dig deeper into the NETS standards, you find there is some general overlap with other areas. At the very least, you have to start somewhere in assessment, and the NETS standards looks the best place to start of any.
  • The test is a coupling of multiple choice and performance based tasks. Not the ideal, but impressive given the logistical challenges that any performance-based tasks provide. I am curious to see how "communication and collaboration" is assessed.
  • The test does have problems assessing one of the standards. From THE Journal:
    A sixth category, Creativity and Innovation, is also included in the assessment, although this area is not a "skill" per se, and there has been some controversy within the education community over how the category might be standardized and assessed.
I would counter that "creativity and innovation" is most definitely a skill, one that some people are more gifted than others, but a skill that can be developed nevertheless. Gifted education researchers have used tools to measure creativity before, usually along the lines of finding the number of different solutions to a task, the number of original solutions to a task, and then a subjective valuing of the originality of the solutions.

Iowa should do the same as South Dakota, but should look for a different assessment product, one that gathers significant data about creativity.

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