What Skills Are Worth Assessing?
Really no-one can answer this
question for you. The answer you create will depend on what you are
trying to achieve and you can’t answer this question till you have
decided what you are trying to achieve for your pupils. So stage 1 is to
sort out your school vision. A school vision should be about the core
business of the school, which is learning. The vision should be clear,
simple and all about the desired end goal for your pupils.
The next step is to take each
aspect of your school vision and establish a comprehensive range of
skills that would make a student competent in that aspect. As an example
I will look at ‘Thinking’ as this is an area that many schools are
currently trying to develop and implement. A lot of schools want their
student to be ‘Effective Thinkers’ when they leave the school. If this
is a chosen aspect then you probably need to create a definition of what
an ‘Effective Thinker’ is.
For example: An effective
thinker has a wide range of skills that help them to create meaning,
gain understanding, make judgments, make good decisions, self analyse
A definition then helps to
establish your comprehensive skill list. The following is a compilation
drawn from some of the schools I work with.
An ‘Effective Thinker’ has the
skills that allow them to:
Purpose: Be able to identify the purpose for reasoning
Distortion and Bias: ability to recognise the factors that cause
distortion and bias such as emotion, background, experiences,
culture and perspective.
Evidence: Recognise and evaluate evidence offered to support
Inferences: identify inferences and the presence or lack of
appropriate supporting evidence.
Assumptions: identify assumptions and the inferences from which
they are drawn
Opinions: identify fact/opinions and the chain of evidence,
inference, assumptions and biases that may be involved
- Develop and
critique arguments: Develop and critique arguments to
promote, defend or critique a point of view.
Decisions: ability to make appropriate decisions considering
relevant implications and consequences.
Generating and Assessing solutions: ability to
generate a range of solutions and ability to assess a range of solutions
looking for strengths, weaknesses, and possible outcomes
Ask relevant questions: ability to ask a range of
Simplify complex situations: the ability to
simplify complex situations so they can be understood
Avoid oversimplifications: the ability to avoid
Make connections into other contexts: Make links
between current situation and other contexts making relevant comparisons
Clarify relevant language: Clarify relevant
contextual language identifying key words and phrases as well as
situationaly explicit vocab
Clarify issues: ability to examine complex
situations, clarify and establish core factors, identifying root,
significant and subsidiary issues
Discern contradictions: ability to discern
Discern prejudice: ability to examine opinions and
discern hidden or underlying prejudice
Discern when to suspend judgment: ability to
understand when one doesn't know enough and judgement should be
suspended till better information is available
Develop criteria for evaluation: the ability to
examine a situation, and create relevant criteria to use for evaluating
Evaluate credibility of information & sources:
ability to evaluate the credibility and validity of information and its
Make and recognise generalisations: ability to make
generalisations where appropriate and to recognise generalisations
others have made
Narrow or broaden a focus as appropriate: ability
to broaden or narrow focus as appropriate to ensure all aspects are
Recognise inadequate information or evidence:
ability to examine information and evidence and make valid judgements
about its adequacy
Weigh evidence: ability to weigh evidence to
ascertain its relevance, validity, reliability, appropriateness and
At this point we have a list of 24 thinking skills
and I have two very strong suggestions to make.
Suggestion 1: Don’t consider assessing all these
skills. One of the ongoing issues for schools is to manage and
control the amount of assessment and measuring we are doing. Assessment
has the habit of escalating on you. It is very easy to end up doing a
lot of assessment that has little or no value but keeps everybody busy
and it all looks very impressive until someone starts digging into the
reasons behind the assessment.
Suggestion 2: Seriously consider assessing some
of these skills. If you value something enough to say that this is
part of your vision and is one of your major goals, then you must assess
aspects of it to ensure that you are actually making an impact in that
If thinking is one of the major goals you want to
achieve for your pupils then you are professionally bound to assess
aspects of it, to see if pupils are making progress and to help evaluate
and review the programme/s that are part of achieving that goal.
This raises the next issue schools face, ‘How do
we decide what skills to assess?’
I would suggest that the answer to this question
really requires another question that is more helpful, ‘What do we
see as being the core or foundational skills?’
I would recommend that schools look initially
towards identifying five or six skills that they can agree on as being
core skills to the competency of being an ‘effective thinker’. These
would be the skills that would be assessed and tracked over time.
There are a number of possible processes that can
be worked through to establish the answer. I believe that a sound
process has to be gone through so that if a school is challenged about
the skills they have chosen they can actually justify and defend their
choices and supply sound reasons for their selection. This should also
be documented somewhere. I believe it is unprofessional to just randomly
select a set of skills.
The following set of skills is a selection made by
one of the schools I have worked with. They have sound justifiable
reasons for their choices, the process was documented and they have a
review process established so that they are always open to revision and
change if they feel it is justified. Their ‘Core Thinking Skills’
Ask Relevant Questions: The ability to ask a range
of relevant questions.
Weigh Evidence: The ability to weigh
evidence to ascertain its relevance, validity, reliability,
appropriateness and accuracy.
Generating and Assessing Solutions: the ability to
generate and assess a range of solutions looking for strengths,
weaknesses, and possible outcomes
- Develop and
Critique Arguments: Develop and critique arguments to
promote, defend or critique a point of view.
- Identify Fact,
Opinion, Inference, Assumption and Bias: The ability to
identify fact/opinions and the chain of evidence, inference,
assumptions and biases that may be involved.
Their next step was to find or establish ways of
assessing stages of development for these skills.
For questioning they are using the ‘QuESTioning
Rubric’. For the rest they are establishing their own rubrics or are
adapting suggestions supplied by QuEST (Quality Education and Support)
They now have a set of five
‘Core Thinking Skills’ and are gathering solid evidence and useful data
that allow them to:
- discuss next steps with
- share progress with pupils
- monitor school-wide data to
review programme effectiveness
They have completed the same
process across four other aspects from their vision, which gives them a
structured and focussed assessment package that totally targets their
‘learning vision’. The other thing they have done is discard all
assessment that could not be traced back to their vision. They have
successfully passed through an external review process and have a school
that is very focussed, professional and knows where it is going, why it
is going there and how they are aiming to get there. This is a school
that is an exciting place for teachers and pupils. The wonderful thing
is that any school can work themselves into such a situation. It takes
some work but it is professionally rewarding work.
Feel free to make comments, suggestions, share what
your school has done or to ask questions on this material
on the 'Future
Learning Now' blog.