21st Century Skills Assessment - Challenge Map
Challenge Map


21st Century Skills Assessment

The Challenge

Many districts are looking beyond statewide assessments to include more innovative definitions and measures of student achievement. Yet, standardized tests still serve as accountability mechanisms that drive public perception; families don’t want to send their children to schools with “bad” test scores. Some districts are looking to integrate new assessments to provide valuable information about the development of key skills, often called “21st century skills,” that will serve students in the future, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, and innovation. Unlike the learning outcomes that are traditionally measured, these skills do not yet have widely adopted tools for assessment. In order to recognize and support students as they develop these skills, districts need valid and reliable assessment protocols and instruments for assessment. Further, districts must balance time spent preparing for standardized tests with their strategic goal to advance this broader skill set.

In the Words of District Leaders

We're trying to really hard to get a more global look at academic achievement, trying to define it differently -- from a portfolio lens, rather than just a single summative exam. We are spending a lot of time, energy, and resources on building out some type of system that captures student classwork, including information from all the various apps we use.

“Trying to stay in that innovative space, we always try to look at other metrics that define achievement that are not just the statewide tests. The dilemma is that tests for districts that look like a district where I’m serving in [serving students of color], are a big deal because of external accountability mechanisms that drive public perception around traditional public schools. As much as I’d love to talk about all these other metrics that define how our kids are performing, the reality is that in districts like ours, those test scores are really, really important. I get stuck in ensuring that our kids are performing on those state’s exams at a much higher rate than they currently are.”

“What we are interested in finding out is, does the technology allow us to, or is it helping us, foster 21st century skills? Does the technology assist us in fostering collaboration between students, teachers, and perhaps experts in the field? In the collaborative nature of what we do in the classroom, does technology play a role in that? Does it help foster critical thinking skills?”

Ideas from the Field

  • Digital portfolios is a popular idea that districts are exploring to help students authentically showcase their abilities and experiences to potential employers.
  • Another approach is a senior project through which students demonstrate 21st century skills, and which can be incorporated as a graduation requirement. This type of project not only assesses “soft skills” but can also increase student engagement and preparedness for college and career.


Check out the following research-based resources for more information about 21st century skills assessment:

Assessing 21st Century Skills: Integrating Research Findings – From Pearson, this report summarizes peer-reviewed research published in education and psychology in order to answer
several questions about 21st century skills, including how do researchers define them and how do researchers traditionally measure them, and make recommendations regarding how best to assess these skills.

State of EdTech 2016: K-12 Student Assessments – From EdSurge this research report section describes that the current testing ecosystem is in flux and everyone is frustrated from teachers to students.

21st Century Assessment: Rubrics for the 4Cs – A Review – From P21, a response to the driving question: How can a comprehensive set of 4C rubrics deepen learning in 21st Century classrooms?

Grading Soft Skills: The Brookings Soft Skills Report Card – This report demonstrates the value of having measures of soft skills that are simple and close to the classroom. Student characteristics captured in a report card frequently produce artifacts in available administrative records that can be used for system-wide accountability.

Portrait of a Graduate Resource Hub – From Battelle for Kids and EdLeader21, Portrait of a Graduate aims to make 21st century learning a reality for all students. The resource hub has tools, stories, videos, and examples from districts engaged in this effort.

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