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What Skills do we Assess?



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 and reflect.

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:

  • Identify Purpose: Be able to identify the purpose for reasoning
  • Identify Distortion and Bias: ability to recognise the factors that cause distortion and bias such as emotion, background, experiences, culture and perspective.
  • Evaluate Evidence:  Recognise and evaluate evidence offered to support claims.
  • Identify Inferences: identify inferences and the presence or lack of appropriate supporting evidence.
  • Identify Assumptions: identify assumptions and the inferences from which they are drawn
  • Identify 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.
  • Make 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 relevant questions

·         Simplify complex situations: the ability to simplify complex situations so they can be understood

·         Avoid oversimplifications: the ability to avoid over simplification

·         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 contradictions

·         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 some aspect

·         Evaluate credibility of information & sources: ability to evaluate the credibility and validity of information and its sources

·         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 considered

·         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 accuracy.

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 aspect.

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’ are:

·         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) ltd.

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 students
  • share progress with pupils and caregivers
  • 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.