Teaching and Assessing for a Changing World
In the early 1950s, a group of influential business executives pledged corporate support for higher education, establishing what is today known as the Council for Aid to Education (CAE). At the time, the CAE Chair (and General Motors Chairman) Alfred P. Sloan Jr. noted that “the two greatest contributions of our time have been the U.S. university and the U.S. corporation; . . . If these two forces can go forward together in understanding and cooperation, there is perhaps no problem beyond their joint power for resolution.”
In the decades since, as technological change has upended economic and industry trends and demands, the CAE has been at the forefront of initiatives to help both colleges and schools keep pace. One strategy has been the design of assessment tools widely used around the world that measure student learning though performance tasks. At the undergraduate level, CAE implements the CLA (Collegiate Learning Assessment); for middle and high school students, it offers the CWRA+, the College and Work Readiness Assessment.
In line with Principia School’s pedagogical emphasis on learning and teaching “for understanding” and on inculcating transferable analytical and communication skills, the CWRA+ was introduced in the Upper School in the 2014–2015 academic year. This internationally normed, 90-minute test uses real-world scenarios and approaches that align with Principia’s institution-wide Student Learning Outcomes.
“Although it is too early to draw definitive, sweeping conclusions, data pulls so far show positive trends,” notes the School’s Institutional Research Coordinator and English teacher, Steve Henn (US’98, C’02). “This provides useful feedback for our teaching practices, curricular offerings, and overall academic culture.”
Upper School student performance has improved in all areas, particularly in the important aspects of “Analysis and Problem Solving” and “Critiquing an Argument.” The improvement in these two areas suggests that Principia students may be outpacing national growth averages. Henn hopes that the upcoming third round of testing (next week) will clarify this trend.
At the start of the semester, more than 130 upper schoolers were awarded badges by the CAE for their performance on the fall 2016 round of CWRA+ tests. The three rankings consider several factors:
- Proficient: Ability to write comprehensibly, make inferences about texts, extract meaningful information from diverse sources, and critically evaluate sources
- Accomplished: Ability to present coherent arguments backed by evidence, identify bias and distinguish between credible and non-credible sources, and write to a specific audience
- Advanced: Ability to clearly present requested recommendations and decisions, thoroughly supported by evidence; write engaging responses, with a varied use of language; and demonstrate an understanding of nuance
Five students attained the highest level of Advanced Performance (93rd percentile and above), and the rest were recognized as “proficient” or “accomplished” in a range of key 21st-century skills, such as communication and critical thinking.
In addition to the useful feedback that CWRA+ data provides on student performance and teaching strategies, Henn is pleased that it’s also “providing a model of assessment that Principia is already putting into practice. In classes and in final exams, teachers are increasingly incorporating authentic, real-word tasks and assessments that challenge students to think in diverse ways.”