How can we assess 21st century learning?

21st Century LearningIn a day and age when the term “21st century learning” is being thrown around, not much has been discussed about the concrete facts of how these skills should be imparted and assessed. While we know that this method of education is designed to prepare children for college, careers and life in the 21st century, how can we know if and when they are truly ready?

Just as methods of instruction are changing, with many teachers integrating technology like adaptive learning programs into their classrooms, assessment is also evolving. The Common Core State Standards, for instance, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, bring with them new online tests slated for full implementation in the 2014-15 school year.

But what about everyday assessment? While yearly exams can provide important data about how students are progressing generally and what more can be done, teachers need to adapt their instruction to the needs of their students every day to make sure that they have a deep understanding of what they’re being taught. Which brings us back to the question: How can we assess 21st century learning?

Adaptive learning programs
It’s impossible for teachers to be in multiple places at once, which is why adaptive learning programs, like those developed by DreamBox, are so immensely helpful. These programs not only personalize instruction, but also assess student learning and gather data. The DreamBox system is able to interact with students as they use it, analyzing data from the students’ decisions in real-time and adjusting instruction accordingly. Diagnostic and adaptive assessments are embedded within each lesson, which means that teachers constantly have access to new information that will tell them whether or not students are really “getting it.” Teachers and school administrators can use the data from these built-in assessments to track student proficiency and progress, and improve student achievement prior to mandated state or national testing. When assessment is combined with learning, it can reduce the need for formal testing, which may take up valuable class time that students could be using to hone their 21st century skills.

Build in real-world applications
The main idea behind 21st century learning is to give students tools that they can apply outside of the classroom: Critical thinking, communication, problem solving and media literacy are skills will help students be successful in school and in life. The problem is that assessing these abilities can be a bit challenging because they are not as concrete as something like using the quadratic formula. If the whole point of teaching students 21st century skills is making sure they are ready to confront the real world, then why not assess their abilities by having them apply their knowledge to real-life scenarios? For example, students can develop online portfolios to research, create and publish projects that apply what they’ve learned and demonstrate how they’ve learned it. When teachers, administrators, parents and peers can easily access a student’s work and comment with further questions, a more comprehensive assessment of academic understanding and progress can be developed.

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Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Throughout her life and career, Jessie Woolley-Wilson has been driven by a singular belief that all children need and deserve high-quality learning opportunities, regardless of who they are or where they live. She believes that by supporting great teaching and learning, everyone wins: kids, families, communities and the world. Jessie has worked in the education technology space for nearly 20 years to support school and district leaders to improve learning and life outcomes for K-12 students.

Jessie joined DreamBox Learning® in 2010 as Chair, President, and CEO. The startup software company had pioneered Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ in 2006 and began partnering with schools soon after Jessie joined. Today, DreamBox serves nearly 3 million K-8 students and approximately 120,000 teachers. The company provided more than 350 million math lessons across the U.S. and Canada in 2017.

Jessie recently secured a $130 million investment in DreamBox from The Rise Fund, a global impact investing fund managed by TPG Growth. Prior to joining DreamBox, Jessie served as president of Blackboard’s K-12 Group and LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the K-12 division of LeapFrog Enterprises. Jessie also served in leadership positions at, the interactive division of The College Board, and at Kaplan, the leading test preparation company in the U.S.

Jessie supports the broader K12 industry by serving on the boards of several educational organizations including Rosetta Stone, Newsela, the Western Governors University Board of Trustees, and Ursuline Academy. She is also a board member for Boeing Employees Credit Union, Pacific Science Center, and The Bullitt Foundation. She has been a featured speaker at international events including TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu, DENT and GeekWire Summit 2018.

Jessie is a two-time recipient of EdTech Digest’s EdTech Leadership Award for her work in transformative innovation in education and honored her as one of 2018’s Top 100 Influencers in EdTech. Seattle Business Magazine awarded Jessie the 2015 Executive Excellence Award in the CEO of the Year category and Forbes placed her on its “Impact 15” list for being a disruptor in education. The Puget Sound Business Journal honored Jessie as a “Woman of Influence” and 425 Magazine named her as one of eight “Unstoppable Eastside Women” for having a clear focus on the greater good. Additionally, The New York Times has profiled Jessie and her leadership style in their Corner Office column.

Jessie holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the University of Virginia. She is also a 2007 Henry Crown Fellow and moderator for the Aspen Institute.
Jessie Woolley-Wilson