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My favorite part of the day had arrived! It was time to perform my daily walkthroughs. A question popped into my mind as I entered the first classroom while observing students monotonously taking a routine quiz. Is it possible to assess a student's deep understanding of a concept and their ability to apply this concept through a traditional paper-and-pencil quiz or test? This question lead to a better question. What steps can we take to modernize our assessments to match today's world?

After much reading, including the thoughts and perceptions of both Heidi Hayes Jacobs and Alan November, I came to the conclusion that a 21st century assessment should be a menu of options for our students.  It must allow students to pick and choose the best method for showcasing a specific skill.  Every day, in every class, students must be encouraged and expected to demonstrate what they're learning so that we as educators can capture a true reflection of understanding.

As Alan November so eloquently demonstrated in his TEDxNYED presentation, the following three minute video clip is found on in which students share tutorials with the world. In this clip, Bob (anonymous name to protect identity) is a 6th grade student who demonstrates prime factorization using a factor tree.  As you watch the video, I want you to assess Bob's understanding of prime factorization.  Is it difficult to determine Bob's mastery of this concept?  Ask yourself this question as you watch the video, If a student made a mistake during the tutorial, would you be able to identify exactly where he/she went wrong immediately? 

Many of the tutorials on are one minute or less.  Most of these tutorials are created at home. This is one idea on how we can upgrade our assessment types to reach a true understanding of learning.  

I understand it can be time consuming, therefore, what if teachers began to focus on the most important concepts within the subject matter in which they teach.  How could you match the assessment to the 21st Century?

Imagine in English, students have the option to write a screen play opposed to an essay, or read and study a piece of literature and then being able to engage in a thoughtful conversation about it, or in history, students may argue a case before a mock Supreme Court, or in science, students may design and conduct an original science experiment to demonstrate their understanding of a specific concept.  

How does modernizing our assessment types relate to posing authentic, real world problems and/or creating opportunities for students to 'own the learning?'  I look forward to your comments on innovative ways to gauge student mastery and understanding.

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Comment by Sherry Booth on June 27, 2011 at 9:24am

Hi Shawn,

There is a new online community dedicated to discussing and exploring the next generation of assessments powered by technology. You might want to check it out!

Comment by Ashley West on June 17, 2011 at 1:08pm

As I was beginning to post a blog with this very same question, I fell apon yours.  As a primary teacher, I was given the task from my principal regarding different assessment tools other than ThinkLink and DRA that we could assess our 150 primary students.  I too am looking for ideas! 



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