Are your students ready for their next step?

The case for authentic assessment of essential college and career skills to improve student outcomes in college and career

After more than a year of virtual learning, many educators and parents are investigating approaches to accelerate learning to ensure students are ready for their next step.  Learning does not just mean facts and content but includes a broad range of skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and effective written communication, as well as social and emotional well-being.  

While content knowledge is a requisite part of a student’s education, on its own it is insufficient if a student is to thrive academically and professionally. Students’ critical thinking, problem solving, and written communication skills are essential for success in college and career. These are the skills in high demand by employers and higher education institutions.

Prior to the pandemic, CAE’s data show that 60 percent of students entering college are not proficient in these essential skills. Furthermore, 44 percent are still not proficient when they graduate. These are the students most at risk–and proficiency is likely even lower now, given the impact of the pandemic. CAE’s data also shows that students who are more proficient with these essential skills are more likely to have positive college and career outcomes.

Educators work hard getting students ready for their next step. Several states now require evidence of student progress toward that goal. However, institutions generally do not have a consistent, proven approach to assess how competent their students are in these essential skills. Most rely on subject area tests or college entrance exams to gain that insight. Such tests have come increasingly under fire over the past decade, with critics claiming they are overused, inequitably applied, and not aligned with optimal outcomes for training and education. The challenges of COVID-19 further highlighted existing perceptions of assessment deficiencies.

At CAE, our mission is to improve student learning outcomes. Our performance-based assessments provide a more complete picture of students’ readiness for higher education and the workforce. We encourage districts and institutions to look at the skills their students need to be successful. Measuring these essential skills can best be accomplished by using authentic, valid, and reliable assessments.

CAE’s assessments provide a measure of students’ readiness–whether moving from middle school to high school or from high school to higher education or the workforce. Our assessments situate students in real-world scenarios that require them to analyze and synthesize data and information, address important issues, propose solutions, and recommend courses of action to resolve conflicts.

According to our research, students are more engaged and put forth more effort on a performance task than conventional multiple-choice tests. With that increased engagement and effort from the students, educators can gain insights into students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities rather than just the students’ ability to memorize and recall.

By assessing students’ essential skills early in their academic journeys, educators can use the results to provide targeted developmental support. CAE’s College and Career Readiness Assessment (CCRA+) for grades 6-12 serves as an effective instrument for diagnosing students’ strengths and opportunities for improvement to increase future success.

We have entered a world where fact-based knowledge is no longer sufficient. The opportunity to improve students’ essential college and career readiness skills lies in identification and action, particularly for students preparing for their next step.

The opportunity to accelerate learning and contribute to students’ success is within our reach. Let us support students wherever they are with the knowledge and the skills they need to be successful, now and into the future.

eSchool Media Contributors