Transforming Education: Assessing and Teaching 21st Century Skills

Purpose of this Paper

The structure of global economy today looks very different than it did at the beginning of the 20th century, due in large part to advances in information and communications technologies (ICT). The economy of leading countries is now based more on the manufacture and delivery of information products and services than on the manufacture of material goods. Even many aspects of the manufacturing of material goods are strongly dependent on innovative uses of technologies. The start of the 21st century also has witnessed significant social trends in which people access, use, and create information and knowledge very differently than they did in previous decades, again due in many ways to the ubiquitous availability of ICT.

These trends have significant implications for education. Yet most educational systems operate much as they did at the beginning of the 20th century and ICT use is far from ubiquitous. Significant reform is needed in education, worldwide, to respond to and shape global trends in support of both economic and social development. What is learned, how it is taught, and how schools are organized must be transformed to respond to the social and economic needs of students and society as we face the challenges of the 21st century. Systemic education reform is needed that includes curriculum, pedagogy, teacher training, and school organization.

Reform is particularly needed in education assessment—how it is that education and society more generally measure the competencies and skills that are needed for productive, creative workers and citizens. Accountability is an important component of education reform. But more often than not, accountability efforts have measured what is easiest to measure, rather than what is most important. Existing models of assessment typically fail to measure the skills, knowledge, attitudes and characteristics of selfdirected and collaborative learning that are increasingly important for our global economy and fast changing world. New assessments are required that measure these skills and provide information needed by students, teachers, parents, administrators, and policymakers to improve learning and support systemic education reform. To measure these skills and provide the needed information, assessments should engage students in the use of technological tools and digital resources and the application of a deep understanding of subject knowledge to solve complex, real world tasks and create new ideas, content, and knowledge.

Efforts to transform assessments have been hindered by a number of methodological and technological factors and these barriers must be addressed. In issuing this call to action to political, education, and business leaders, Cisco, Intel, and Microsoft argue for an international multistakeholder project that will:

1.Mobilize the international educational, political, and business communities around the need and opportunity to transform educational assessment—and hence, instructional practice—and make doing so a global priority.
2.Specify highpriority skills, competencies, and types of understanding that are needed to be productive and creative workers and citizens of the 21st century and turn these specifications into measurable standards and an assessment framework.
3.Examine innovative ICTenabled, classroombased learning environments and formative assessments that address 21st century skills and draw implications for ICTbased international and national summative assessments and for reformed classroom practices aligned with assessment reform.
4.Identify methodological and technological barriers to ICTbased assessment, support the specification of breakthrough solutions that are needed to measure 21st century skills, and derive implications for the scaling up of ICTenabled classroom learning environments.
5.Support the implementation of these standards and breakthrough methodologies, pilot test them in selected countries, and make recommendations for broader educational assessment reform.

This paper presents the rationale for such a project, reviews the current state of art in the assessment of 21st century skills, and identifies the current barriers and problems in developing transformational 21st century assessments. It also provides an action plan by which multiple stakeholders can work together, identify problems, share knowledge, build on current efforts, and create breakthrough solutions to reform assessment and transform education.