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How key competencies refocus assessment outcomes (archived)

Traditionally assessed outcomes

Challenges for learning in the 21st century

How key competencies refocus outcomes

Assessment challenges

Literacy and numeracy - the 'old basics'

These are assessed using a range of tools, including some that are nationally benchmarked, eg PATs and asTTLe.

Multimodal communication methods combining written text, pictures, moving images, music, etc, which can be free of time, place, or the need for participants to be physically present Multimodal communication adds 'new basics'. Students need to learn how to use the various tools and representations of each learning area and to become more skilled at combining them. Traditional print-based pencil and paper tests do not provide a sufficient range of evidence to demonstrate these additional more complex outcomes.

Knowledge gained in a range of learning areas (7 in the NZ Curriculum Framework; 8 in the NZ Curriculum)

Knowledge is typically assessed by pencil and paper tests, essays, examinations, project reports, etc.

A shift to using knowledge to carry out meaningful tasks (learning to be a person who can apply the knowledge he/she has learned)

Students need to develop multiple 'literacies' as they make broader and deeper connections between various disciplines and learn about the nature of subjects.

There is a new focus on:

  • creating and critiquing knowledge, not just 'having' it
  • making links (seeing connections) to the whole learning context
  • meta-level learning - learning about knowledge, thinking, disciplines, etc.

Many traditional assessments measure knowledge gains (and sometimes the ability to apply gains) but not the appropriate use of knowledge in meaningful tasks.

Assessment frequently focuses on individual aspects of learning, even within learning areas. Tasks that assess integrated knowledge are less common.

We don't yet have much experience of assessing meta-level learning within and across subjects and/or learning areas. How might we do this meaningfully?


A range of skills appropriate to different learning areas (eg the essential skills of the NZ Curriculum Framework)

Skills are frequently assessed against checklists or, sometimes, by producing a completed product or project.

If motivation is assessed at all, it is typically by means of a generic checklist prepared in advance and completed by the student.

Adapting skills into actions matched to each new situation arising from changing patterns of work

Developing the disposition to lifelong learning is a valued outcome.

Skills are integrated with knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that direct attention to dispositions. The focus is on students being ready, willing, and able to use skills and knowledge in appropriate ways at relevant and appropriate times.

As with knowledge, we become better at adapting and using skills in new and flexible ways when our identities are engaged and the task has real meaning.

Discussing learning - the meta level - helps students recognise new opportunities to adapt and use their skills.

Dispositions can only be demonstrated in action – assessment is of the moment and needs to be set in a meaningful context.

The overall shape is 'fuzzy' (Carr, in press) meaning that it is difficult to predetermine what can be observed and documented (eg included on checklists).

Assessing 'learning to learn' has proved to be a tricky challenge and is an area of active international research - there are no easy answers as yet (more details can be found on the Learning how to learn website).

Socialisation - fitting in, responding appropriately in different contexts and to relevant sources of authority (which may be knowledge or people); being a 'good citizen'

Socialisation skills are usually assessed by the teacher, based on inference from what they are in a position to observe.

Ability to respond appropriately in multiple cultural settings and working in diverse groups in rapidly changing social conditions

Working with others is central to lifelong learning.

There is explicit recognition that learning in all settings is important, not just learning that happens at school.

Key competencies focus on ongoing development of the individual identity as a person who can envisage acting in certain ways and who is willing and able to do so.

Thinking and acting autonomously includes a focus on why it is appropriate to act in certain ways in diverse contexts and on rights, roles, and responsibilities.

Group learning is valued and practised.

Typically, traditional assessments infer learner qualities from imposed behaviours (eg being on time, being tidy and organised, doing homework, etc). How do we assess students' growing autonomy if we don't give them opportunities to show it?

Assessment should be meaningful for the learner, not just for others.

Assessment of group learning is a new focus.

Taking greater account of extracurricular activities and learning outside school is another new challenge.

Next – Newer assessment strategies to consider

Published on: 17 Mar 2008