Conference Blog

Day 1

Opening Address: 21st Century Skills, Knowledge, Habits, and Values

( Harry Brighouse presentation slides)

Dr. Harry Brighouse

Dr. Harry Brighouse

Dr. Harry Brighouse, Professor of Philosophy and Education Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison kicked off the conference with his insights on “Cultivating the 21st Century Mind”. In his presentation, Brighouse held schools responsible for developing people who make independent judgments, who are capable of forming relationships, and who participate in the economy (for not only monetary purposes, but for the purpose of feeling valuable to society). According to Brighouse, the 21stcentury mind must demonstrate more than what tests typically measure. Skills such as empathy, ability to coordinate with others, humility, and other more difficult to quantify characteristics are crucial elements.

Brighouse questioned the purpose of testing and standards, describing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as the victory of testing over standards. He asserted that standards are supposed to guide us to know what really matters or must be taught, and that standards and testing should play a role in teacher preparation. Brighouse suggested that “good teachers” can serve as models to support the development of novice teachers and that standards and testing should be used to identify such teachers.

Brighouse was quick to warn, however, that identifying the right standards is key to ensuring that what students learn is truly valuable. He shared his concerns about the new Common Core State Standards, including their bias toward cognitive and physical, at the cost of emotional, moral, spiritual standards: “When the standards that you have are framed in cognitive terms, you risk reducing what happens in schools to those standards.” He recognized the challenge of teaching and testing emotional and moral characteristics, but points to schools such as KIPP who have worked to emphasize such traits in their curriculum (see file: KIPP NYC Character Report Card).

Despite the challenges of measurement and the complexities of change within large school systems, Brighouse concluded that cultivating the 21st century mind requires that we “measure the immeasureable” — or at least take these essential characteristics into account.

Day 2


Dr. Elizabeth Garrett

Dr. Elizabeth Garrett

Dr. Elizabeth Garrett opened the conference in the morning. She reminded us of the importance of our critical role in advancing the preparedness of students for higher education.

Dr. Garrett suggested that our conference theme, 21st Century Knowledge and Skills, indicates that our policies and practices are responding to the needs of the 21st century. She emphasized the importance of understanding the learning, as a life-long process, and that primary, secondary, and institutions of higher education must work together to support student/development. She also reminded us that the “blunt instruments” currently used to measure students do not capture some of the most essential skills that the 21st century student must develop.

Dr. Garrett emphasized that learning, innovation, critical thinking, breadth and depth, must be at the center of our focus. She closed with a powerful quote from Benjamin Franklin, “Do not confuse motion, for action” and left the group inspired to move into meaningful action.

Keynote Address: The Alignment and Misalignment of High School and College Expectations

Dr. David T. Conley

Dr. David T. Conley

(David Conley presentation slides)

Dr. David T. Conley analyzed the disconnect between how students are currently prepared and what it takes to prepare students for college succes. He reminded us that K-12 and university systems historically were not designed in an aligned way. Thus we have been tasked locally with connecting K-12 and higher education systems. States are developing standards to foster well-educated citizens and workers, with some who will go on to college. But the expectations and support in terms of readiness for college are not aligned with what it takes to be successful.

Key principles of college and career readiness, according to Dr. Conley, include a mindset that college readiness is more than a score on a single math or English test. College success is a function of readiness across multiple dimensions, including alignment among student skills, interest, and postsecondary objectives. The current measures are insufficient in determining this alignment. Dr. Conley critiqued grades, GPA, and tests as inadequate measures of students.

He described the current period as a policy environment focused on college and career readiness, as evidenced by NCLB waivers that emphasize college/career readiness standards, ESEA, state college/career readiness goals, Common Core Standards, and consortia assessments. Currently, 93% of students indicate that they want to go to college; only 70% of students graduate from high school, 44% enroll in college, and only 26% earn a college degree. Of those that do enroll in college, 1 out of 3 will transfer, 65%-85% will change their majors, and adults between 20-29 will change jobs 7 times on average, reducing lifetime income and diminishing career development.

Dr. Conley identified four levels of readiness, work, job, career, and college ready, each with unique and increasing preparation needs. He cited schools as responsible for developing the foundation, habits, and strategies for career and college readiness. According to Dr. Conley, young people need to be adaptive, flexible learners who know how to learn. He identified four key elements to college and career readiness: 1) cognitive strategies, 2) content knowledge, 3) learning skills and techniques, and 4) transition knowledge and skills.

Although cognitive strategies are critical to the development of flexible, adaptive learners, they are not typically well developed in K-12 education. Content knowledge must include students’ relationships to the content. Learning skills and techniques must include ownership of learning. This includes knowing oneself, goal-setting, motivation, persistence, monitoring performance, asking for help, and showing self-efficacy. Learning techniques that relate to college readiness include time management, note-taking, study skills, test-taking skills, strategic reading, collaborative learning, and technology skills. Transition knowledge and skills include post-secondary awareness, costs, matriculation, career awareness, role and identity, and self-advocacy. In summary, these key elements relate to the follow: Think (cognitive), Know (content), Act (skills and techniques), Go (transition).

Dr. Conley asserted that we must move students from novice to expert thinkers. Secondary schools treat students as novices and as a result students do not develop deep expertise. He described a college-ready trajectory that moves students from novice toward expert and identified the Common Core State Standards as better aligned with college-readiness, but demands K-12 and postsecondary must develop deeper and more sustained partnerships in order for change to occur.

Session 1: Common Core State Standards and the National Assessment Consortia

Mr. Allison Jones

Mr. Allison J

Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

(Allison Jones PARCC presentation slides)

Mr. Allison Jones, focused specifically on the assessments related to the common core standards. Mr. Jones described the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Dr. Mitchell provided an overview of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.

PARCC is a consortium of 24 states and serves as a model for collaboration to improve student college-related outcomes. The aim of the consortium is to prepare students to enter college ready for coursework, without the need for remediation. Additionally, the consortium aims to increase the number of students who are prepared to be successful in college and strengthen the nation’s ability to compete globally. The PARCC assessment will measure a range of skills for students in grades 2-11.

According to Mr. Jones, by the end of high school, what students are typically expected to know does not represent the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in college, which results in remediation. Over 50% of first-time entering students in the California State University (CSU) system go into remediation (the highest rate in the country), despite these students having met or exceeded standards identified by high school exit exams as college-ready. Jones suggested that there is a complete disconnect between what higher education institutions expect students to know and what high schools think those institutions want.

States are working to improve standards and assessments. Over 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which identify what students must know and be able to do to graduate from high school prepared for college. Colleges and universities want students to be able to conduct, apply, and identify areas for research. Additionally, they want students to apply skills and knowledge across the content areas to solve real-world problems. They ask students to conduct research, research, communicate findings, model results, and other behaviors that demand critical thinking and applications.

The 24 states in PARCC have agreed to use the assessments that come out of the CCSS to be used to allow students who demonstrate proficiency to move directly into credit-bearing courses, rather than remediation when they go to college. Additionally, these partner states will pilot and use the results of the assessments as part of their state’s accountability system. The assessments include summative and formative elements that support the placement of students into GE courses- they are not intended to determine admission to the university. Addtionally, the assessments are not designed for students who delay entry, but rather those who aim to go directly to college after high school.

Mr. Jones emphasized the importance of partnerships between K-12 and higher education, and identified several ways in which this is occurring through PARCC. Partnership strategies include engagement and design meetings, advisory committees, technical advisory groups for English and math, and the higher education leadership team. Additionally state education officers, chancellors/presidents, national education associations, and key faculty have collaborated in this effort.

He raised the question of how to support students who are not on track. Interventions must begin as early as 8thgrade. Additionally, in-service and pre-service training is critical to help provide the content and skills teachers must be able to teach. Although the common core standards and related assessments are not without challenges, the benefits and opportunities are great. Jones asserts that it will change the education landscape as students will be better prepared, have more options, and more students eligible for college. Additionally, as students move through the system more quickly, there will be more room for more students to matriculate–thus expanding college opportunity.

Dr. Christyan Mitchell

Dr. Christyan Mitchell

An Overview of the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium

(Christyan Mitchell SBAC presentation slides)

Dr. Christyan Mitchell introduced the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). Although the SBAC differs from PARCC, there are similarities in terms of goals of supporting the development of students who are prepared to enroll and succeed in college. Dr. Mitchell described the current state of summative assessments as problematic for many reasons: 1) In that each state procures its own assessment system, they measure proficiency against state standards as opposed to agreed upon standards, 2) Over-reliance on multiple choice, 3) Results are delivered too late for use, 4) Accommodations for students with special needs vary greatly, and 5) Paper-based administration results in time, money, and security issues. We need next generation assessments that measure college readiness, have common, comparable scores, provide achievement growth information, assess all students, are administered online, and use multiple measures.

SBAC is a national consortium of 28 states, that along with PARCC, play a key role in the policies and design of assessments based on the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). SBAC participants include governors, education chiefs, state legislatures, and state boards of education. These participants, along with SBAC Staff, WestEd, and 174 public systems/institutions of higher education (representing 74% of direct matriculation students) partner in the development and design.

Dr. Mitchell described the 7 key principles that guide SBAC and components of the system. The principles include an: 1) Integrated system, 2) Evidence-based approach, 3) Teacher involvement, 4) State-led with transparent governance, 5) Focus on improving teachers and learning, 6) Actionable information, 7) Established professional standards. The three SBAC components include a: 1) Summative assessment that is aligned to the CCSS and provides growth information, 2) Interim assessment, a non-secure, open bank of items that can be used in a flexible way, and a 3) Formative assessment which aims to provide the teacher with the resources needed to improve instruction. SBAC uses computer adaptive technology for summative and interim assessments to yield faster results, provide a shorter test, increase precision, tailor to student ability, and offer greater security.

He described how the SBAC system exceeds current approaches. For example, although the assessment measures reading and math, as do current assessments, SBAC measures the higher-order strategies that students need to be successful in college. In the SBAC system, the reading emphasis is on the ability to read closely and analytically. Writing asks students to “produce effective and well-grounded writing for a range of purposes and audiences”. In math, students are asked to apply concepts, frame and solve problems, construct viable arguments, and analyze complex real-world scenarios. Such tasks provide a stronger measurement of the critical thinking, problem solving and application that we expect students to have when they go to college.

Dr. Mitchell shared examples of test items and asked, “Why can’t you learn when you test?” He then demonstrated how students can both demonstrate what they know and do so in a relevant way, and learn, as they participate in interactive items.

The assessments and approaches offered by PARCC and SBAC described by Mr. Jones and Dr. Mitchell are promising improvements in measuring college readiness.

Session 2: International Standard Setting

New Methods, New Questions, Learning Objectives and Advanced Assessment

A panel of experts presented on issues and opportunities related to international standard setting.

New Ways of Thinking and Working, as Well as New Tools for Learning

(Tristian Stobie CIE presentation slides)

Dr. Tristian Stobie

Dr. Tristian Stobie

Dr. Tristian Stobie launched the session. According to Dr. Stobie, the OECD proposed that students should be introduced to new ways of thinking and working, as well as new tools for learning. He described the new skills as necessary in today’s economy, noting there is widespread agreement that desirable learner outcomes include:

  • Basic skills
  • In-depth understanding, problem solving/critical thinking, information literacy, adaptability, flexibility resilience
  • Creativity
  • Global/international/intercultural understanding
  • Learning for life
  • Ability to communicate, argue, and debate with clarity
  • Ability to work effectively in teams and individually

He cited the essential role of the teacher and school leader in shaping a 21st century student and citing Hargreaves (2006) work, summarized the 21st century assumptions. These assumptions include: 1) Understand intelligence as multifaceted, 2) Recognize students as producers (rather than simply consumers) of knowledge, 3) Curriculum focused on processes, and students knowing how to access and handle information. Dr. Stobie notes that the challenge is to reliably teach and assess the critical 21st century elements and reminds, “We must assess what we value rather than value what we assess.”

Redesigning High-Stakes Assessments to Measure 21stCentury Knowledge and Skills
Mr. Trevor Packer

Mr. Trevor Packer

(Trevor Packer AP presentation slides)

Mr. Trevor Packer presented, “Redesigning High-Stakes Assessments to Measure 21stCentury Knowledge and Skills”, Packer noted the benefits of a shift from finger-pointing between universities and high-schools, to working together to support the development of successful college students. Additionally, the climate has shifted from covering a huge amount of content to helping students apply their knowledge. The College Board has collected syllabi and test questions from universities for over 50 years, documenting the shift from a climate that values “memorizing everything” within a discipline, to one that identifies applications and thinking skills related to a discipline.

According to Mr. Packer, high schools that have embraced 21st century knowledge and skills have asked the College Board to make changes to AP. He stated that teachers must have a fair understanding of how their students will be measured. Thus, learning objectives for the new AP have been created based on the content knowledge that a student must have (based on input from colleges) and what the students should be able to do with that knowledge (skills). Test items reflect an emphasis on student application of concepts. Thus, the new AP will align with 21st century demands.

 Leadership for Improved Student Achievement
Ms. Carolyn Adams

Ms. Carolyn Adams

(Carolyn Adams IB presentation slides)

Ms. Carolyn Adams presented, “Leadership for Improved Student Achievement.” She described the emphasis in the UK to raise achievement on assessments. When the governments, districts, and schools, emphasize only what we can measure, critical skills needed for college access and success are undervalued and possibly ignored. Additionally, she critiqued the grade inflation that accompanies a high stakes testing environment.

Ms. Adams asked, “Are there any benefits to exams?” and highlighted that exams provide, among other things, feedback, motivation, and social mobility. Additionally, they provide the government with clear evidence of progress toward their initiatives and schools, and students understand exactly what they need to do to get into the university. Thus, there are benefits. However, we may lose students who may have otherwise developed a love of learning in particular subjects.

With this, Ms. Adams described the International Baccalaureate program. IB strives to provide a broad curriculum (6 subject groups) in a constructivist learning environment that values critical and higher-level thinking skills. The assessment criteria emphasizes understanding knowledge issues, analysis, organization of ideas, and the learner’s perspectives. This inquiry-based approach attempts to give students the skills that will be required in the 21st century.

Session 3: Curriculum Innovations: Global Perspectives and International Standards

How Learning Objectives and Assessments Translate into Curriculum

In a Q&A session moderated by Harry Brighouse, panelists from the University of Cambridge International Examinations (CIE), the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) Program, and International Baccalaureate (IB) responded to questions related to the alignment to Common Core State Standards, facilitating K-20 partnerships, how their programs are implemented in schools, teacher professional development, adaptive testing, and asessments as a mechanism for “stretching” students. Panelists discussed the complexities of each of these areas, including inherent benefits and limitations of each.

For more information about each organization, please visit their websites:

Master Class: Teachers and Leaders

Challenges and Opportunities for Standards Implementation

(Morgan Polikoff presentation slides)

Dr. Morgan Polikoff

Dr. Morgan Polikoff

Dr. Morgan Polikoff, Assistant Professor of K-12 Policy and Leadership at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, closed the day with his presentation, “Teachers and Leader: Challenges and Opportunities for Standards Implementation”. His focus was on the data and hypotheses around the likely success of the Common Core Standards and our role in improving their effectiveness.

Through data and anecdotes, Dr. Polikoff presented four facts about the state of K-12 instruction in the US, four roadblocks to the effective implementation of the standards, and four challenges and opportunities for research, policy and practice.

The Facts:

  • Instruction in the US is excessively procedural. In math 64% of the standards documented focus on memorization and procedures. 79% of the content on math assessments is focused on such procedures. A similar emphasis is found in the English language arts.
  • Despite decades of standards-based reform, instruction remains poorly aligned with standards. In states that have greater alignment between standards and assessment, alignment between instruction and standards is better.
  • Instruction is shallow and broad in US schools. Dr. Polikoff presented the number of topics presented in math as an example. Whereas US teachers cover 44 topics in the 8th grade curriculum, other countries include far less. Japan’s curriculum includes 12 and Singapore includes 22.
  • Instruction is poorly structure from grade to grade. In math, for example, standards reflect redundancy.

In Dr. Polikoff’s summary of the four facts presented above, the Common Core State Standards are less procedural, but slightly less procedural. They are also narrower and deeper (but not as much as other locales), and better structured with variations by grade.

He shifted to a focus on the roadblocks:

  • Variations in districts in terms of the size, resources, teacher quality, demographics, and levels of teacher involvement in the curriculum. Thus, in a radically decentralized system, there is room for misinterpretation.
  • Teacher norms regarding the removal of curriculum present a second roadblock. Teachers are willing to add to their curriculum–even with minor pressure, yet with much pressure, teachers are much more hesitant to remove topics.
  • Implementation of the Common Core State Standards requires that they do both.
  • The language of the standards is problematic, as the standards are worded in a complicated way that can be interpreted in multiple ways.
  • The uncertainty of the future of accountability is yet another roadblock.

His focus then shifted to challenges and opportunities, outlining key areas:

  • Textbooks and materials can be better aligned as all states are working with the same standards. The related challenges, however, are that there must be more options in terms of curricula and a better way to judge the quality of materials.
  • Next-generation assessments present another opportunity. Historically, a substantial portion of standards content was not tested, tests included content that was misaligned with the standards, and assessments focused on particular skills in the standards. Dr. Polikoff identified assessment consortia, including SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium and PARCC, as positive opportunities to rectify the quality of assessments.
  • Teacher education is a great opportunity.
  • New advances in teacher and principal evaluation present opportunities.

Dr. Polikoff concluded that the Common Core State Standards are better than prior standards, but probably not as good as they could be. The difficulty of implementation makes for a huge challenge, but nonetheless, they are an improvement over the standards of the past.

Keynote Dinner Address

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher, Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher, Dean of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, welcomed conference participants and commended them on their contributions to improving opportunities for students. Dean Gallagher recognized the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice (CERPP) for organizing a powerful opportunity for educators to collaborate and described the other research centers and projects at the Rossier School of Education. CERPP and other centers contribute to the mission of improving educational outcomes for urban students through a variety of research foci. The centers include: Center for Urban Education (CUE) led by Dr. Estela Mara Bensimon, focusing on student success and retention; Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA) focusing on college access, led by Dr. Bill Tierney; and the Center on Educational Governance (CEG), with an emphasis on the design and impact of state standards and assessment systems, led by Dr. Priscilla Wohlstetter.

Additionally, USC has several research-based projects and partnerships within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Work with the Math for America project places teachers who know and love math in the hard-to-teach schools. Many of USC’s Masters in the Art of Teaching (MAT) pre-service teachers complete their guided practice in LAUSD schools. And, recently, the LAUSD school board approved the charter for USC Hybrid High, an innovative high school that aims to support students who are most at risk of dropping out.

Dean Gallagher used these examples to highlight the important relationship that USC shares with LAUSD and with that, welcomed LAUSD Deputy Superintendent of Instruction, Dr. Jaime Aquino.

Keynote Address: Advancing Learning District-wide

Public Education at a Crossroads: A Call for Quality Education

Dr. Jaime Aquino

Dr. Jaime Aquino

(Jaime Aquino presentation slides)

Dr. Jaime Aquino, delivered a passionate keynote: “Public Education at a Crossroads: A Call for Quality Education”. Dr. Aquino began by sharing his own background as an immigrant and second language learner and describes himself as “living the American dream” and has a dream that all students will be afforded the opportunity to do the same.

Dr. Aquino reminded participants of the 1948 United Nations Declaration of Human Rights which stated that everyone has the right to an education. We have made great progress, but he reminded us that the declaration must be amended to state that everyone has the right to a quality education. We are currently not fulfilling the promise of a better life, as some families have no choice but to send their children to failing schools.

He presented the 2009 NAEP (National Assessment of Education Progress) scores as evidence of the broken promise. More specifically, NAEP scores identified only 1/3 of US students as proficient in reading. Only 19% of Latino and 16% of African American students were considered proficient. Similar patterns emerged in math. Students in California demonstrated even lower proficiency rates and those in Los Angeles were still lower. Dr. Aquino concluded that the persistent problems in education have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable groups.

Ownership of these results resides in both K-12 and higher education systems. He notes that in K-12 education, we never hear about remediation attributed to unprepared teachers, who in turn were dispatched to K-12 schools from higher education institutions. Aquino asserts that it is just as unacceptable to send unprepared teachers to K-12 schools as it is to send unprepared students to higher education.

Dr. Aquino described the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as the most promising event in education in decades, as they are an opportunity to establish excellence and equity. Among the positives, the standards can move us from operating in state-based silos to working together collaboratively. He gave the pointed example of a student who, in the current state-based standards systems, may be designated proficient in one state, only to be designated non-proficient upon crossing state lines, solely because the standards differ.

In addition to the impact that inconsistent standards have on students, Dr. Aquino described his own experience of learning standards upon moving to a new state as “a waste of time”. He suggested that schools of education can provide a tremendous service to public education by training teachers to teach in accordance with the Common Core State Standards, as the alignment will benefit students across the states, and across the world.

Children can’t wait for adults to get their act together, according to Aquino. He warned that neither students nor the nation can afford the delay. Although the work we must do is challenging, it is not impossible. He highlighted a school and a system as examples of the potential for change. Denver Public Schools, for example, moved from “worst to first” after implementing a focused agenda on teaching and learning.

Dr. Aquino outlined elements that the radical transformation that is needed to change the education landscape will require. These include an agenda focused on students, high quality teachers, empowerment contracts, accountability systems, early child education, and better teacher preparation. He closed his presentation with a reminder that history will judge us based on how we meet the challenge of providing all students with their human right of a high quality education.

Day 3

Session 4: Non-cognitive Contributors to College and Career Success

Dr. Douglas Christiansen, Dr. David Payne, and Dr. Patrick Kyllonen presented research-based and in-practice prespectives of non-cognitive skills.

(Payne and Kyllonen ETS presentation slides)

Dr. Douglas Christiansen

Dr. Douglas Christiansen

Dr. Christiansen launched and moderated the session. He suggested that when we think about non-cognitive variables we have to think beyond the United States–we have to think about what other countries are doing and how we prepare students for a career. According to Dr. Christensen, last June over 20 enrollment officers from a broad range of schools from around the country gathered to discuss non-cognitive variables and their role in the selection process. The goal of the discussion was to expose the group to a body of solid research and to discuss important questions related to non-cognitive variables, including:

  • How important are non-cognitive skills to college and career readiness?
  • Can they be measured reliably and with validity?
  • How can they be used in career readiness, and college admissions and selections process?
  • Do we want to measure them in ways that can be replicated or to retain our current system?
  • Are we really understanding what we think we are getting from non-cognitive information?
  • Should we quantify these so that students are measured and considered in the same way?

With these critical questions on the table, Dr. Christiansen introduced Dr. Payne, Vice President and COO for the Educational Testing Service’s (ETS) Higher Education Division.

Dr. David Payne

Dr. David Payne

Dr. David Payne provided a history of ETS’ interest in non-cognitive variables. Over a decade ago, ETS identified non-cognitive skills as a critical variable that we do not have a science of measuring. Dr. Payne suggested that non-cognitive attributes can be used in graduate and professional admissions, undergraduate admissions, and in the workforce. Implementation of their use, however, is not without challenges. Issues that they have run into include that current well-established processes within schools make change difficult, concerns about unintended consequences, and the demands that such an approach places on evaluators. Dr. Payne then introduced Dr. Patrick Kyllonen, Sr. Director of the Center for Academic and Workforce Readiness and Success at ETS.

Dr. Patrick Kyllonen

Dr. Patrick Kyllonen

Dr. Patrick Kyllonen described the research related to non-cognitive skills. He began with a description of how schooling relates to non-cogntive skills, and how those skills relate to the labor market. Schooling produces both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, as measured by test scores. Schooling years predict labor market outcomes, yet cognitive skills account for only 20%. Citing the work of Bowles, Gintis, and Osborne (2001), he notes that 80% of the years-in-school benefit is due to non-cognitive skills. An example of this relationship is seen with students who earn GEDs. Althogh GED holders have equal cognitive skills as high school graduates, they have worse labor market outcomes and commit more crimes (Heckman and Rubinstein, 2001). Thus they lack the non-cognitive skills fostered in high school that help in the labor market.

Dr. Kyllonen also cited a Conference Board study (2008) that asked employers what skills they believe to be important. Non-cognitive skills were regarded as important by employers. Over 90% agreed that the following non-cognitive skills were important: oral communication, teamwork/collaboration, professionalism/work ethic, written communication, and critical thinking/problem solving. Non-cognitive skills also align with university missions. A study of college mission statements identified continuous learning, cultural appreciation, multicultural tolerance, leadership, and other non-cognitive variables. Other studies demonstrated that non-cognitive variables were predictors of school grades (Poropat, 2009), relationships between misbehavior in 8thgrade and future earning, and affirmed the strength of non-cognitive variables in predicting career outcomes. In a study of Swedish military men, for example, non-cognitive skills measured at age 18 were twice as predictive of wages earned by 30+ year olds than cognitive skills, and three times more predictive of employment status. Dr. Kyllonen turned to social emotional learning (SEL) and described research related to responses to such interventions. In one study, treatment participants increased social and emotional skills, attitudes, positive social beahvior, etc, and they also demonstrated an increase in test scores as compared to the control group.

Approaches to measuring non-cognitive variables include self-assessments, objective tests, and others’ ratings. ETS has developed a Personal Performance Index (PPI ) that could be used for college admissions. It is a web-based form that rates critical thinking and problem solving, motivation and work ethic, ethics and integrity, persistence and resilience, leadership and teamwork, and communication skills.

Dr. Kyllonen concluded by punctuating key concepts related to ETS’s work with non-cognitive variables. Employers say that non-cognitive skills are important as they may facilitate content skills, prediction studies confirm that non-cognitive skills are important, and that they can be assessed for college admissions processes. Despite the importance of and opportunities related to these skills, he warns that how we measure them is important. Non-cognitive skills in the admissions process, outcomes and skill development could lead to changes in quality and diversity.

Please click for ETS’s research behind the Personal Potential Index.

 Session 5:  Perspectives: Media, Politics, and the Responsibility of Higher Education

(Rod Chu presentation slides)

Mr. Roderick Chu

Mr. Roderick Chu

Dr. Roderick Chu launched the session with a pointed question, “Why Change?” He noted that the school curriculum has not fundamentally changed in 100 years and our agrarian calendar hasn’t changed in 200 years, despite less than 2% of our population working on farms and the known academic loss that occurs in the summer. He questioned the age-graded, as opposed to ability-graded system and asked why we continue to educate kids based on the past, rather than their future. Dr. Chu described a “death spiral” of inadequate higher education funding, inadequate graduates for economic and social growth, and economic and social decline. An educated populace is the key, he asserts, but we must reignite the American dream of enabling future generations to do better than the current one socioeconomically.

Dr. Chu warned that education resists change and we cannot deny our need to contribute to a solution to rescue our future. He described himself as optimistic of the ability of education to change the future and suggested that we must focus on our sphere of influence (Covey) to reignite the American dream. An enormous opportunity, in terms sphere of influence, lies in resolving the K-12/higher education divide. Educators must collaborate to bridge this gap. Among his many pointed suggestions, he asserts that standards must pass the “refrigerator test”–they must be worded in such a way that they can be posted on the refrigerator door, allowing families and students to understand and work toward them. He concluded by summarizing the need and opportunity that lies before us.

This powerful introduction was followed by Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed. Mr. Jaschik reminded us that we are in an election year and invited us to reflect on where we were 4 years ago. Four years ago, candidates had detailed education proposals. They were posted on websites (financial aid plans, NCLB, etc.). Compare this to our current situation, when for example, last week Republican presidential candidate Santorum accused President Obama of snobbery because Obama stated that every American should have one year of higher education. Santorum is not alone in his beliefs. In Montana, Pell grants were recently compared to food stamps–this mindset is a precursor to cutting financial aid.

Mr. Scott Jaschik

Mr. Scott Jaschik

Mr. Scott Jaschik noted that we are not hearing much about education from the Democratic party either. We have discussions on the high costs of college and the need for new efficiencies, yet no one is talking about the underlying causes. Mr. Jaschik simplified the issue: “As states disinvest, class sizes and costs go up.” He critiqued that this reality is not being discussed, and that cuts being made are disproportionately in fields that make people well-rounded (liberal arts, etc.).

Instead of discussion related to these key issues, we hear about productivity and how technology will “magically” solve our problems. Technology is being used to replace people, instead of using it in tandem with good people. Mr. Jaschik provided examples of the negative effect of “radical change on the cheap” as technology is used to replace good people, rather than being used in tandem with people.

The role of the media in shaping national conversations was also addressed. He critiqued the press for their focus on elite institutions and held higher education institutions accountable for press releases that perpetuate the wrong messages on admissions selectivity. “We are in a bad spiral,” he stated, “of ignoring the toughest issues, focusing on silly issues, and avoiding the tough questions.”

Mr. Jaschik closed with a challenge to the audience, “I wish you to achieve perfection, so that I have nothing to write about.”

Note: Dr. Chu presented a portion of Did You Know, Shift Happens- Globalization and the Informaion Aid. To view the entire video, please click here.

Session 6: Implications for Policy and Practice

The implications of the themes examined during the 21st Century Knowledge and Skills conference on policy and practice were discussed by a experts who span the K-12 and higher education continuum.

Mr. Ted Hill

Mr. Ted Hill

Mr. Ted Hill started the panel by paraphrasing John Stuart Mill: People are people before they are anything else; if we make them into good people, they will make themselves into good doctors, lawyers, etc. He cited Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (Heath) and the point that sometimes the solution to a problem does not need to be as big as the problem. Rather than focusing on the challenge, Mr. Hill, as a self-described optimist, identified many bright spots and opportunities, and invited us to consider the assets that students bring. For example, he described the enthusiasm that American kids express and the work they will accomplish when they are involved in a real-life problem or when an activity is cast as “play.” Students have skills and propensities that we need to tap into, not complain about. He also described the positive impact that his institution experienced after putting their five core values “into words”. Having the vocabulary to “catch kids doing something right and knowing what to call it,” for example, has made remarkable changes in their system.

Mr. Hill concluded by emphasizing the importance of relationships, citing 3 key elements of an effective instructor from a study out of the UNC. According to the student, teacher are effective (in this order) when they:

  • Love working with students
  • Have a passion for what they are learning
  • Have the knowledge and expertise in what they are teaching

According to Mr. Hill, this is good news, as these are the characteristics motivate people to the education field in the first place, and these are characteristics we have the ability to influence everyday.

Dr. David Cash

Dr. David Cash

Dr. David Cash led the discussion. Dr. Cash asked, “What do we know about high schools? What is going on in them? Can they change?” We already know we need to be involved in teaching 21st Century skills. And if we know that is what must happen each and every day, we must ask, why isn’t it happening? The challenge is that schools are resistant to change, and because people draw from their own experiences to shape their expectations of what high school should be, we are often mired in the past. As well, external messages do not always align with what we know is best for students.

Dr. Cash suggested that two things will have an influence on change:

1) Common Core State Standards: Will empower teachers to do what they want to do, what they need to do, and wthat they feel is best for students. With fewer and more relevant and rigorous standards, Dr. Cash feels that these standards will give teachers the opportunity to do what they love and prepare students in a way that is aligned with what we know about 21st century skills.

2) Technology- Dr. Cash suggested that technology “is in the environment in which students learn.” He described a massive paradigm shift as this is the first time that a new technology has resulted in students teaching adults. Today’s students as the drivers of change.

With these opportunities, he concluded that not only can high schools change, but believes that they will.

Dr. Kedra Ishop

Dr. Kedra Ishop

Dr. Kedra Ishop addressed how the presentations and discussions of this conference relate to the policy and the admissions and enrollment processes at her institution. She held admissions and enrollments officials responsible for using non-cognitive variables in a responsible way and leading the way in identifying how these will translate into the enrollment processes.

Dr. Ishop notes that her institution is unique in terms of selectivity as they are an open enrollment institution for anyone in Texas who graduates in the top 10% in their class. This policy allows students who have risen to the top to have their choice of public institutions and puts UT in the position of being responsible for serving students with a wide range of preparation and backgrounds. Thus, UT has had to make changes in the teaching at their college to support incoming students. Dr. Ishop describes this as an “interesting crossroads” and her point punctuates the complexities of admissions and eenrollment management.

Mr. Stuart Schmill

Mr. Stuart Schmill

Mr. Stuart Schmill suggested that institutions must try to make their processes less opaque and that how they communicate is very important. Modeling such transparent communication, Mr. Schmill outlined unique elements of the college admissions process at MIT. These elements include applicants’ American Math Competition (AMC)scores and participation in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Mr. Schmill noted that they find these to be very good predictors/measures of how students will do on their campus. Using his daughter as an example, he described engaging in AMC as an opportunity to think, not just “do math.” The FIRST Robotics Competition provides MIT with a glimpse of what students do outside of the classroom. The competition is particularly aligned with 21st century skills and useful to MIT in that, although it is a competition, students do well not only by the number of points that their robots score, but also by exhibiting teamwork with competing teams.

Mr. Schmill described the dilemma students face in understanding what universities want. For example, some students do not engage in activities such as the robotics competition because “they are not AP courses.” Students perceive their admissions opportunities are improved if they focus on maximizing their load of AP classes. Again, he held universities responsible for communicating their policies and practices to students. Additionally, he suggested that universities must be willing to take the student with fewer AP classes, if they have made choices (such as AMC and the FIRST Robotics Competition) that predict that they are a good match for the institution.