Adding ongoing formative assessments that help to guide instruction of these skills does not seem like a heavy burden to place on teachers and students. As John Behrens noted in describing the Packet Tracer, the system relies on “stealth assessments”; often students do not even realize they are being tested.
At the same time, other workshop participants stressed it is important not to lose sight of the need to ensure that students in the United States learn the basic academics. As Paul Sackett put it, “If we were at a different conference, we would be spending time lamenting the fact that students in the U.S. are not up to par on some fundamental academic skills.” Likewise, Deirdre Knapp noted all 21st century skills are not equal—some are clearly more important for students to learn than others, and we are further along in knowing how to assess some skills than others. Thus, it is critical to set priorities for where and how to spend the limited time, money, and resources.
Kyllonen also emphasized the importance of considering the cost tradeoffs. He noted the various examples of assessments included some “ingenious low-cost assessments and some dazzling high-cost assessments.” He encouraged work to study the differences in order to figure out where high-cost investment is cost-effective and where it might not make a difference. He and others pointed to examples other than those presented at the workshop that might be important resources and models. For instance, Herman mentioned the work that David Conley, with the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), has been doing to identify critical components of college and career readiness, as well as similar efforts by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to focus the 12th grade assessment on these skills. Kyllonen also spoke of the exams used to assess critical-thinking skills at the college level, such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), the ACT CAP Test, and the ETS Proficiency Profile Test. They are all operational programs, he pointed out, that may serve as models. Knapp noted the work the military has been doing to evaluate temperament, persistence, and stamina. Others commented that while the Envision High School was featured at the workshop, a number of such high schools throughout the country are working to incorporate instruction and assessment of 21st century skills into the curriculum in innovative ways.
Defining the overall purpose of the assessments was an issue raised repeatedly in deciding on a path for moving forward. Sackett framed the issue as deciding between a focus on individual results or group-level results. He asked, “Do we want students to leave school with an individualized certificate that documents their level of competence in each skill? Or do we want to document how the nation is doing in aggregate?” He cautioned obtaining precise and reliable assessment at the individual level is difficult,