The importance on assessing students’ 21st century skills, not just math, science and reading

(Cross-post from the Microsoft EMEA Press Centre blog.)

This week, Microsoft is taking part in the annual Education World Forum in London. For us, it’s a great opportunity to meet with education ministers from around the globe and hear about the different issues facing their countries. It’s an important part of the work we do in this sector; by listening and understanding both the opportunities and challenges, we ensure our business is available to support them in the quest for inclusive and relevant education for everyone.

Three years ago, Microsoft partnered with Cisco and Intel to launch the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project. Made up of governments, intergovernmental organisations and research and teaching institutions, ATC21S is a collaborative research program created to address a specific problem: that traditional assessment methods do not properly evaluate the skills needed to prepare learners for working in the modern world. Skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation are all vital attributes for students but not currently measured effectively by most countries. These skills can prepare a student for the workforce and provide stronger economic opportunities for the future.

ATC21S has moved from concept and definition stage through to the development of assessments and trials for collaborative problem-solving and ICT literacy -learning using digital networks. Today, we’re excited to announce the road ahead. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a worldwide, three-yearly evaluation in OECD member countries of school pupils’ performance – will be including Collaborative Problem Solving as a mandatory component of the 2015 study.

"ATC21S has played an essential pathfinder role to move the assessment agenda forward. It fills a critical gap between existing basic research on assessment design and methodologies, on the one hand, and the implementation of large-scale assessments that provide reliable data at reasonable cost, on the other. Its latest venture, the piloting of tasks to assess collaborative problem-solving skills, provides important insights for OECD's efforts to broaden future PISA assessments to encompass interpersonal skill dimensions." – Andreas Schleicher, Head of Indicators and Analysis Division, Education Directorate, Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)

PISA is aimed at improving educational policies and outcomes. It tests literacy in reading, mathematics and science, measuring education’s application to real-life problems and the knowledge needed for the world of work. This close alignment with our own aims means that PISA’s interest helps to focus the ATC21S work in informing the methods, approaches and teaching and learning strategies needed, and we’re really proud to be working together.

To make sure schools are ready to teach and assess 21st century skills, and specifically, collaborative problem solving skills, we’ll shortly be releasing policy and teaching guidance, as well as sample assessments. Through these materials, teachers will be able to identify gaps in development and assess where they may need to invest in curriculum change.

As employers of tomorrow’s talent, it’s important for Microsoft to support education initiatives, using our resources, visibility and global reach to help improve learning and education all over the world. Alongside our common interest, assessing students on 21st century skills is an important step in spreading economic development. Many of the jobs that today’s students will perform may not even yet exist. As I’ve blogged about before here and here, using old models to assess these students fails to prepare them to adapt their skillsets for the ever-changing world of work.

UPDATE: The ATC21S team is blogging from the events and sessions on site in London. You can follow the discussion here.