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Holistic Assessment of Transportable Skills Provides New Insight Into Student Abilities

Michelle Gough

Senior Vice President and Chief Legal and Assessment Officer, Project Lead The Way

Transportable skills are necessary for students to be successful in their schools and careers. A new skills assessment offers a unique way of measuring students’ demonstration of these skills.

A recent study by Burning Glass Technologies revealed that employers value and specifically recruit based on a range of skills in addition to subject-specific knowledge. These skills, which include problem solving, collaboration, critical and creative thinking, communication, and ethical reasoning, transcend specific industries and professions, as they are valued by employers from across fields and roles.

Furthermore, Project Lead The Way, Inc. (PLTW) has found that these same skills are gaining importance for higher education admissions programs across the country, especially as traditional standardized test scores are being deemphasized by institutions at all levels. Therefore, students who intentionally develop and practice these skills, referred to as “transportable skills” by PLTW, can build strong foundations that will support success in higher education and foster thriving future careers, irrespective of their paths to their ultimate careers.

Demonstrating skills

Some of the most pervasive and well-known national standardized assessments taken by high school students are primarily designed to support college admissions decision making. These assessments do not explicitly claim to assess or provide feedback on transportable skills, and they have limited relevance to careers (although some do provide student-directed online career advising portals).

Given the value placed on the transportable skills by employers and college admissions programs, students need a means to provide evidence of their ability to apply these skills – a tool that is overtly missing from the current assessment landscape. To fill this void, PLTW redesigned its end-course-assessments and score reporting system to provide students with first-of-their-kind opportunities to understand their abilities in these areas and to share this information with the institutions and employers that matter to them.

A new assessment

PLTW collaborated with leaders in higher education and industry from around the world to create assessment items that present complex and relevant real-world problems, all within in the context of the STEM subjects, that can only be solved via the application of transportable skills. These items, which have been engineered to be as engaging as possible via the incorporation of multimedia, simulations, and multi-stage tasks, allow students to simultaneously provide direct evidence of both subject-area knowledge and their abilities in the transportable skills via a single assessment. Importantly, students receive first-of-their-kind score reports that document their performance in a detailed and meaningful way, and PLTW provides students with a dashboard from which they can share their results as needed.

Importantly, these new holistic PLTW assessments also deliver on a long-sought signal to students that critical and creative thinking, ethical reasoning, problem solving, and communication and collaboration are essential skills that can be taught, developed, and measured and then showcased to forward-thinking higher education intuitions and employers who recognize and recruit people with these skills.

Future applications

They also provide students valuable feedback on how effectively they can apply these skills on a scale from “novice” to “distinguished,” thus offering important affirmation to students who practice and refine their abilities in a way that most state and national standardized assessments that feed into admissions and certifications have left unacknowledged and, therefore, undervalued.

The PLTW end-of-course assessments represent a paradigm shift in assessment design, and their value is already being acknowledged and validated by institutions of higher education and companies, as they provide unprecedented breadth and character of insight into student ability. Ongoing development of these assessments is focused on providing higher-resolution data while eliminating numerous sources of test bias to provide fairer and more meaningful standardized testing experiences.

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