The challenge of designing curricula to prepare students for an unpredictable future is compounded by the even-greater challenge of evaluating their readiness for it.

Added to this is the fact that we really do not know what it means when we say we are preparing students 21st century skills ready. We have no idea what skills we will need 5 years from now so trying to predict the skills need for the entire 21st century (January 1, 2001, and will end on December 31, 2100)  is not possible.

Yet we must recognize the educational shifts highlighting the importance of 21st century skills, the ones we know today that are needed, as a mean in assessment design. Education policy makers and industry recruiters agree that a rating system solely based on academic yardsticks is increasingly proving its limits. Yet assessment is an important part of teaching in order to formatively evaluate, and monitor the student’s achievement. From a student’s perspective, marks and feedbacks are guiding tools in one’s learning progression. Yet, in order to fill the gap between hiring requirements on the entering Generation Z workforce and the values students are currently taught, other attributes should supplement the academic ones when it comes to evaluating tools. Read this HBR article on 21st century talent spotting to understand what is happening the workforce.

So what is required of teachers in order to assess students in a different way?

Technology mastery is essential  in devising modern assessment tools. The Generation Z or iGens (born between the midst of 1990s and 2010) presently occupying seats in primary, secondary and higher education institutions, live their lives entirely and permanently technology-connected. iGens is the first generation already using technology and mastering it at a higher level than their teachers. Secondly, the acceptance and understanding how the responsibility for learning is increasingly shifting from teachers to students in blended learning formats, and this transfer of accountability should be integrated in assessment design, clearly facilitating and displaying the student’s proficiency in monitoring and managing his or her learning progression.

How should the 21st Century scorecard look like to reflect the Generation Z’s aptitude to navigate in an unpredictable world?

Robert Marzano, in his book ‘Teaching & Assessing 21st Century Skills’ proposes to look beyond the factual and procedural applications of knowledge in assessment. According to him, a high level of cognitive and conative skills is essential in the 21st century, and students’ performances in these skills should be measured along with their factual and procedural abilities.

Cognitive abilities are brain-based skills we need to carry out any task from the simplest to the most complex. They have more to do with the mechanisms of how we learn, remember, problem-solve, and pay attention, rather than with any actual knowledge.

Conative skills help students determine future courses of action—not only when interacting with data and skills, but also when interacting with people. Conative skills deal in feelings, emotions, and harnessing them in order to be more productive. They include the ability to: Interpret situations.

While cognitive skills are relatively known as the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information allowing us to gain knowledge and understanding, conative skills refers to the ability of connecting knowledge to behaviour. Conation is often linked to intentionality and proactivity and is absolutely critical if an individual is to successfully engage in self-direction and self-regulation.

The main ingredients of so-called 21st centuries skills, such as analysing and utilizing information, addressing complex problems and issues, creating patterns and mental models can be categorized under the cognitive process, while understanding and controlling oneself, and understanding and interacting with other are conative processes.
These five skills can be converted in measurable indicators that should figure on the increasingly prominent scorecard’s right side. Marzano proposes four indicators:

  1. Divergent and convergent thinking
  2. Controversy and conflict resolution
  3. Perspective taking
  4. Navigating digital sources.

Similarly, Character Lab focuses its research on character strengths such as interpersonal and intellectual strengths, for children to develop to their fullest potential life in the 21st century. On their Character Growth Card, Character Lab designed a seven grades scale with eight indicators (Curiosity, Gratitude, Grit, Optimism, Self-Control both interpersonal and about school work, Social intelligence, and Zest), to be filled by teachers and the student.


21st century skills are not substitutes for academic skills. Our iGeners need to score high on both sides of the scorecard in order to navigate successfully in troubled waters coming ahead. The good news is that right side skills are helping tremendously achieving those on the left side, landing one’s dream job, and leaving a meaningful life.





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