Measuring Skills for the 21st Century

Laura Pohl

Elena Silva
Education Sector
November 2008

There is no doubt that students need such skills as critical thinking and applied reasoning to thrive in an increasingly information- and technology-driven world. (Of course, people also needed those skills in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.) But assessing such competencies is costly and time consuming, and therefore they are rarely measured, says this report. This we knew. Myriad critics of No Child Left Behind's testing requirements have called for better and more comprehensive assessments. Such instruments exist but are expensive. For example, the College Work and Readiness Assessment, which covers critical thinking, analytic reasoning, and problem solving, costs about $40 a pop. Compare that to $7 per head for Massachusetts's multiple choice and open-ended test, and 60 cents per student for North Carolina's multiple choice, machine-scored test. The more comprehensive and nuanced tests can't be graded by machine; this adds scorer training and subjectivity to the mix. Ultimately, Silva concludes that despite these setbacks, "new forms for assessment, as well as other yet-to-be-developed measures, will be critical for making assessment effective for educational purposes...and for accountability purposes." That might be true, but we're still left wondering how exactly she envisions that coming about. The report can be found here.