How Do We Measure a Competency?

Recently, I participated in two excellent Twitter chats on the #21stedchat hashtag. The first was about Assessing 21st Century Competencies and the second explored Marks and Grades in the 21st Century.  Both chats drew large crowds and much of the discussion revolved around the kind of assessment practices that will be needed to support the building of important competencies for future society.  The following graphic, which comes from Alberta’s new Framework for Student Learning, pretty much outlines the competencies we were talking about:

Many involved in the chat agreed that there needs to be a move toward students demonstrating their learning in more authentic ways, aligning with real-world situations. An emphasis on choice, performance assessments, portfolio building, and student-led conferences all came up as high yield strategies to better support the kind of learning needed today.  It was inspiring to hear from the many educators who are pushing the envelope with both learning and assessment.  Their ideas were both innovative and practical.

Then, at one point in the discussion I posed a question that we’ve been grappling with at my school for a while now, “How exactly do we measure a student’s level of proficiency with competencies such as collaboration, critical thinking, and communication?”  It took a few minutes but then @PaulSolarz from Illinois shared this 21st Century Skills Report Card which includes 34 elements to be assessed.  It’s a comprehensive accounting of the important competencies that should be included in our student’s learning.  Thankfully, he was kind enough to grant me permission to borrow it in order to further the work I am undertaking at my own school.  I did, however, press him a bit further by asking how each element is measured and received this response:

@millerg6 Each bullet is a behavior that needs to be observed by the teacher. Still qualitative, but with guidelines. #21stedchat

…and then this (which I agree with wholeheartedly) “@millerg6 Thanks an important question, but should it delay the implementation of 21st Century Skill instruction? I think let the Ts try it! #21stedchat

I would say this is the challenge many schools are facing today.  Educators are being called upon to engage students in a new way but can’t seem to figure out how to effectively measure and report the authentic learning.  Because of this, competency-based learning remains superficial at best.  At the end of each unit or term most teachers fall back on the comfort of traditional assessment practices.   

Just last week Alberta’s School Boards and Superintendents released this discussion paper on student assessment It contends that “curriculum and assessment must change to better prepare students to succeed in a complex and dynamic world. Some skills and abilities have always been important for success, but now change is occurring and knowledge is growing much more rapidly than in the past. The tools we used are different and quickly evolving.  As well, the majority of people in our society now need sophisticated skill sets, as opposed to just a few.”

The discussion paper goes on to suggest that “teachers will continue to use assessment to inform instruction and evaluate students in classrooms, but the types of assessment will most likely change. Most educational researchers and leaders believe that assessments should be much more performance-based. That is, the assessment of students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes needs to be more closely linked to tasks performed in the world outside the classroom.”

It is my opinion that we should be exploring competency-based authentic assessment with a great deal of enthusiasm in our schools today.  Let’s give our teachers the necessary time and support to come together and work on this.  They’re the best resource we have.

Categories: 21st Century Competencies, 21st Century Learning | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

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15 thoughts on “How Do We Measure a Competency?

  1. …this is exactly why standardized testing is NOT appropriate. Because in real life, we don’t solve problems by answering multiple choice questions.

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  13. Nice post! I have a feeling that once the assessment issue is clarifed change will happen much faster than previously thought possible. In Finland the approach is that teachers in the school decide on the best methods to assess progress and sucessful completion of learning goals.

    I do have a question and perhaps a quibble…

    “That is, the assessment of students’ knowledge, skills and attitudes needs to be more closely linked to tasks performed in the world outside the classroom.”

    I see no significant difference between in or out of schools once we move away from mostly content based assessment. The best skills in the world outside the classroom are literacy, numeracy, persistence, patience and ethical behavior. They cross every specific job and are the real skills of the 18th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

    How a student becomes fluent in literacy, numeracy , etc etc will be different for each school and probably for every student, but the goals remain the same for every student in every school.

    Greg, I would love to get your thoughts on this. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Michael. I would love to wrap our heads around this at an #ecosys chat. I have written a number of blog posts about this very topic and would be happy to write a good prompt for an #ecosys discussion. This post would be a good discussion starter. Should I discuss the idea with Chris? I always appreciate your thoughts and ideas.

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