For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about concept-based curriculum and instruction and critical thinking. This week we tackle the topic of assessment. Because if you’re teaching kids to transfer deep conceptual understandings to solve novel problems, or to think critically, we need to assess differently.

Less of this…

And less of this…

And more of this:

And this…

As we prepare students to save the world — literally, solve major global problems like lack of access to water, global warming, and failing democracies — we need to assess their ability to tackle big, complex problems, not just their ability to choose “c.” Because, come on, when was the last time any of us multiple-choiced our way to a better planet?

Now, don’t get us wrong. There is nothing inherently bad about multiple choice or true/false questions, or even memorizing multiplication tables. Some of the goals we have for students can be measured this way. However, if we truly want students to be prepared for the demands of the 21st century, we need to assess their collaborative problem solving skills just as frequently, if not more.

We call these assessments — the ones that measure students’ collaborative problem solving skills — performance tasks because they ask students to perform in real-world situations. They require students to conduct disciplined inquiry into a problem or task, construct their own knowledge, and produce something of real-world value. In fact, when students are faced with challenging assessments like these, they tend to do better on the pen-and-paper standardized tests we often use to measure achievement. Check out this study. Researchers in Chicago found that high quality performance tasks produced academic gains for all students, regardless of income or race.

This week we’ll share some more research and introduce some simple performance assessment techniques that you can implement in your classroom. For now, take a moment to do a self-inventory. What types of assessments have you administered this year? How many of them are helping you and students see their progress toward solving real-world problems?

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