International Tests to Gauge 21st-Century Skills

January 23, 2009 2 min read

Looks like the international assessments, TIMSS and PISA, are set for revamping and will include measures of 21st-century skills. Just how they will quantify those skills may depend on the results of a joint project being undertaken by of three of the world’s largest technology companies: Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems, and Intel Corp. The companies are working together to create assessments that measure things like critical thinking, technical aptitude, and collaboration.

The project was unveiled this month at the Learning and Technology World Forum in London.

Barry McGaw, the executive director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute in Australia, will oversee the project. McGaw is a former education director of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which runs the PISA.
I wonder how this will affect comparisons of the results from one testing cycle to the next. (There have been times when significant changes to the NAEP have resulted in breaks in the trend line, although those problems are sometimes headed off by bridge studies that allow ongoing comparisons between the new tests and the older ones.)

Officials with the OECD and the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, or IEA, which conducts the TIMSS, have expressed interest in using the measures on the next versions of the international assessments, according to a news release from the forum.

“IEA is committed to the greater integration of [information technology] into all its assessments, especially TIMSS and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study,” IEA Chairman Seamus Hegarty, said in the statement. “This reflects the changes in learning environments and the potential of technology to enhance the teaching and learning process.”

The project will focus on methods and technologies that encourage and measure the teaching of the kinds of skills students will need in the global marketplace. While PISA tests reading, math, and science, beginning in 2003 test items that measure problem solving were added. Officials had planned to add tasks related to information and communication technology in time for the 2006 PISA test, but were not able to do so, according to McGaw. Such skills, however, are likely to be included on the tests in the future.

“In the global economy, it is the world’s best-performing education systems, not simply improvement by national standards, that have become the yardstick for educational success,” said Andreas Schleicher, head of education indicators and analysis at the OECD. “That is why more and more countries measure the relative strengths and weaknesses of their education systems with OECD’s global PISA assessments. To do so effectively, it is crucially important that these assessments continue to evolve to reflect the skills that matter for individuals and economies. Technology-based assessments will be critical to this and the project brings together key partners that can help PISA make this happen”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.