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While the term is widely used in education, it is not always defined consistently, which can lead to confusion and divergent interpretations. While these different terms may not be strictly synonymous, and they may have divergent or specialized meanings in certain technical contexts, these diverse sets of skills are being addressed in this one entry for the purposes of practicality and usefulness.

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The following list provides a brief illustrative overview of the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits commonly associated with 21 st century skills:. While many individuals and organizations have proposed definitions of 21 st century skills, and most states have adopted learning standards that include or address cross-disciplinary skills, the following are three popular models that can serve to illustrate the concept and its applications in education:. For related discussions, see content knowledge and learning standards. The basic idea is that students, who will come of age in the 21 st century, need to be taught different skills than those learned by students in the 20 th century, and that the skills they learn should reflect the specific demands that will placed upon them in a complex, competitive, knowledge-based, information-age, technology-driven economy and society.

While 21 st century skills are relevant to all areas of schooling and academic study, and the skills may be taught in a wide variety of in-school and outside-of-school settings, there are a few primary ways in which 21 st century skills intersect with efforts to improve schools:. Calls for placing a greater emphasis on cross-disciplinary skills in public education are, generally speaking, a response to the perception that most public schools pay insufficient attention to the postsecondary preparation and success of students.

In other words, the concept has become a touchstone in a larger debate about what public schools should be teaching and what the purpose of public education should be. For example: Is the purpose of public education to get students to pass a test and earn a high school diploma? Or is the purpose to prepare students for success in higher education and modern careers?

Educational assessment - Wikipedia

The push to prioritize 21 st century skills is typically motivated by the belief that all students should be equipped with the knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits they will need to pursue continued education and challenging careers after graduation, and that a failure to adequately prepare students effectively denies them opportunities, with potentially significant consequences for our economy, democracy, and society. Other educators may argue that cross-disciplinary skills have historically been ignored or under-prioritized in schools, and the push to give more emphasis and attention to these skills is simply a commonsense response to a changing world.

The following list provides a few additional examples of representative arguments that may be made in support of teaching 21 st century skills:. The stakes involved are low to moderate. In this context, our exploration will address four questions: 1. How does test preparation affect instruction? How does test preparation affect content coverage?

To what extent does test preparation contribute to educational inequities? What factors affect the nature of test preparation in the state? We begin by giving a brief history of educational policy and testing in New Jersey. Then we describe our research methods before addressing these four questions. New Jersey adopted its core curriculum content standards in The mathematics, science, and language arts tests were implemented statewide in the spring of Students spend about half their time answering multiple-choice items and the other half answering open-ended items.

At the same time, New Jersey had a weak accountability system, at least with regard to the fourth-grade test. Although the state did have a law allowing for district takeover and had already taken over three districts, criticism of that program suggested that the state would be unlikely to take over any more districts. Moreover, there was no provision for taking over individual schools.

Schools that did not have the requisite number of students achieving pro- ficiency on the state test would, however, be subject to more intensive monitoring and additional paper work. New Jersey has a rather underdeveloped system for addressing other elements that might constitute a systemic strategy for shaping instruction. For instance, unlike California and Texas, the state has no centralized textbook or materials approval system.

Nor does it have an elaborate system for offering professional development to support the new standards and assessments. The state has recently adopted a requirement that teachers receive hours of professional development every 5 years, but the range of activities that count as professional development appears to be broad, and the hours is roughly consistent with current practice.

It remains to be seen whether teachers will take more professional development related to standards or instruction in assessed areas. In this section, we describe separately the samples for quantitative and qualitative analyses and their corresponding variables. After describing the sample, we discuss the quantitative and qualitative methodology.


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In the next section we give results. Data were collected from a statewide sample of fourth-grade teachers who were asked to respond to a complex set of instruments that elicited information about curriculum, instructional practices, and school context. After con- tacting approximately teachers, data were collected in the form of telephone surveys from teachers, written surveys from teachers, and portfolios of instructional materials from teachers.

During the 2nd year of the study, all items were combined into a telephone survey to improve response rates, but instructional materials were not collected. In the spring of , a total of teachers, including from the 1st year, responded to the telephone survey.


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Of the teachers contacted, 71 declined to participate. Samples in both phases were highly representative with regard to geographic and district wealth and demographics. Teach test-taking mechanics, such as filling in bubbles, writing your name on the test, or pacing yourself during the test. Teach test-besting skills, such as methods for turning story prob- lems into arithmetic calculations or how much to write after an open- ended math item. Give practice tests with items similar to those on the ESPA. Teach the regular curriculum using performance-based exercises similar to ESPA.

Assessment in Mathematics Education

More- over, this activity has the potential to promote student discourse about important mathematical ideas because students explain their reasoning and defend their solution strategies. We asked teachers how often they did these various activities throughout the year and during the month just before the test was given. To explore whether teaching to the test was associated with direct or inquiry-oriented instruction, we examined the correlations between scales we developed to measure each of these two latter constructs and the teach- ing to the test scale.

Direct instruction is closer to conventional teaching. The direct instruction scales have 11 items, and the sample had a reliability of. We collapsed these ratings into four wealth categories to obtain reasonable frequencies in each category. Organizational context is operationalized in this analysis by two scales, principal support and ESPA pressure.

The Ambiguity of Teaching to the Test

Principals support change less by coaching teachers on specific instruc- tional approaches than by creating a context that encourages experimen- tation and change. Professional development is a form of support that helps teachers con- struct the knowledge to assess and apply new practices. We used three measures of professional development.

In addition, we asked how much time teachers spent in district-provided professional development. Although we asked about several kinds of professional devel- opment at the district level, the most important kind for this purpose was professional development on strategies to help students score high on the ESPA math and science tests. Materials is also a form of support that can be especially important for preparing children for open-ended and performance-oriented items on a state test. Familiarity with such items may help children score better. More- over, insofar as there is any intent to promote inquiry-oriented instruction, some materials may facilitate such inquiry.

The first was knowledge of national and state standards in both math and science. Teachers could rate themselves on a scale ranging from awareness only to expert could lead a workshop. We also asked teachers about their sense of personal efficacy. A larger sample could be beneficial in this regard if supplemented with interpretive material from small n studies. The current study complements the survey described above with direct observation and interviews of more than 60 teachers.

Our intention is to supplement findings from the survey with a more intensive analysis of a few teachers. Sample The observation study focuses on 63 teachers drawn from two samples. We then looked for teachers who scored at extremes on both scales, reflecting four typologies of teaching practice: high inquiry-oriented and high direct instruction, high inquiry- oriented and low direct instruction, low inquiry-oriented and high direct instruction, and low inquiry-oriented and low direct instruction.

Ultimately, 22 teachers agreed to participate. Three teachers were selected for scoring high on both inquiry-oriented and direct instruction, 6 for scoring high on inquiry-oriented instruction but low on direct instruction, 7 for scoring low on inquiry-oriented instruction but high on direct instruction, and 6 for being low on both. Using the same selection criteria, we also included observation and interview data from 10 teachers who participated in an observational study in the spring of to help validate the survey scales.

Thus, the combined distribution of teaching typologies among the selected teachers was 5 high inquiry—high direct, 12 high inquiry—low direct, 8 low inquiry—high direct, and 7 low inquiry—low direct. Seven districts were selected as actively working with SSI regional centers that focused on elementary math. Performance Teach the regular curriculum using performance-based 3. Performance Teach the regular curriculum using performance-based 2. Mechanics Teach test taking mechanics like filling in bubbles, how 2.

Mechanics year Teach test taking mechanics like filling in bubbles, how 1. Within each district, math coordinators chose teachers who participated actively in the professional development program. Thirty-two teachers were selected from these dis- tricts, of whom 31 were observed during their mathematics lessons. Ambiguity of Test Preparation Table 2. Mechanics year Teach test taking mechanics like filling in bubbles, how 2.

Observations and Interviews Fifty-eight teachers were observed for two math lessons, and 5 teachers were observed once. The field notes recorded all the problem activi- ties and explorations, the materials used, the questions posed, the responses given—whether by students or teachers—the overall atmosphere of the classroom environment, and any other aspects of the class discernible through observation.

At the conclusion of each lesson, the teachers were asked to respond to a series of open-ended questions about the observed lesson. These included, among others, questions on the goal of the lesson and the pedagogy employed and their reaction to the lesson as implemented. Teachers were also asked how state testing affected their teaching. Coding and Analysis of Observations While observations were underway, researchers conducted detailed analyses of records of classroom observations, seeking to pinpoint important themes or issues that could be explored through the classroom observation data.

As the observations drew to a close, we adapted several preexisting schemes to be used for coding the classroom data. A preliminary coding scheme was tried on approximately six observations before being agreed upon. Two individuals independently coded each observation—at least one coder was an experienced mathematics education researcher. Where dif- ferences occurred, raters sought to reconcile their differences and were successful in all but 2 of the cases.

In those 2 cases, another mathemat- ics education researcher discussed differences with the raters and helped them to reach agreement. Interviews were sorted by question.