N.J.-based Educational Testing Service calls for ‘seismic shift’ in academic assessment

Group will partner with Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching on initiative that will put focus on skills needed for modern day

Should students be graded a new way — a system that aims to address a full range of skills to ensure they are ready for the future rather than relying on a system that was created in 1906?

The highly regarded Educational Testing Service and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching feel that way. On Monday, they announced that they have formed a partnership designed to radically transform education assessment across the U.S.

In collaboration with practitioners and policy-makers nationwide, the partnership aims to create a robust, scalable suite of assessment and analytic tools that captures the full range of skills required for American students to succeed in K-12, post-secondary education and beyond, the groups said.

Amit Sevak, CEO of ETS, said the time is right for change.

“It is time for a seismic shift in education that puts the focus on skills,” he said. “And not just cognitive skills accounted for in curriculum written for 20th-century skills and work, but the rich tapestry of skills that enable individuals to thrive in the 21st century.

“This is a fundamental paradigm shift from time-based to skill-based units of learning. Smarter assessments are the key to unlock the future.”

Here’s the background that led to the proposal in four steps, according to the groups:

  • Since 1906, the Carnegie Unit or credit hour has served as the bedrock currency of the educational economy. It defines what “counts” as learning, shapes the nature of what is and is not assessed, and determines the basic organization of secondary and post-secondary education.
  • Where seat time has served as the primary function of learning outcomes, it is increasingly clear that the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed to succeed in the 21st century economy are not singularly demonstrated through time on task — whether sitting at a desk or on a digital platform.
  • It is time to fundamentally rethink how learning progressions and mastery are demonstrated, the methods of measurement used, and how attainment of skills is communicated throughout a learner’s journey.
  • The Carnegie Foundation and ETS are proposing that the new currency of education should be based upon meaningful skills and accomplishments demonstrated through assessment.

“Current assessments fail to capture what we know matters most, and do not provide key stakeholders — students, parents and educators — with the insights they need to accelerate learning,” Carnegie Foundation President Timothy F.C. Knowles said. “How we demonstrate progress must become competency-based, and families and educators should be supported by assessments that capture learning, whether it occurs in the classroom, after school, on a farm, in the workplace or in an internship.”

ETS and Carnegie said they will work together to design, pilot and distribute a new suite of assessments that measure the essential affective, behavioral and cognitive skills necessary for success in school and the 21st-century economy. The offering will be designed to provide actionable evidence of progress to students, parents, educators and states, and will leverage advances in assessment technology to capture and communicate student skill development, whether it occurs inside or outside the classroom.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, supports the initiative.

“The Carnegie Foundation and ETS are tackling a central issue that is impeding the progress of young people nationwide, one which needs a comprehensive solution,” he said. “It is timely that ETS will leverage its technical assessment strength and scalability, while Carnegie will draw on historical contributions to the field to support student, teacher and family-voice in assessment development, field-testing and implementation.

“I am thrilled that they have engaged organizations like ACE to ensure we are working together across the education ecosystem to address this critical national challenge.”

Carnegie and ETS will design and pilot this offering in close partnership with key stakeholders — including students, parents, teachers, education leaders, civil rights organizations and employers. Stakeholders will be engaged at each step of the process — from development, testing, implementation and determining impact.

Educational Testing Service has a Princeton mailing address, but it is based in Lawrence Township.