EdEval Week: Deborah Mattila on Evaluation of Learning and Teaching 21st Century Skills

I am Deborah Mattila, Research and Evaluation Director at the Improve Group. Over the last several years I have had the pleasure of evaluating many school-based initiatives that explicitly and implicitly address development and application of 21st Century Skills, a set of learning and innovation skills built around the 4 Cs of Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.

Rad Resources:

  • The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21, the national organization advocating for 21st Century readiness) has an interactive road map for 21st Century skills-related information, resources and tools. Here you can check out details behind all the skills areas, and their connections with standards-based learning, instructional practice and learning environments.
  • Intel® Teach Elements are free professional development courses that can help educators, program staff, and evaluators understand different aspects of a 21st Century Classroom (focused on digital learning), develop and use authentic assessments, and examine what student-led data-focused critical thinking looks like.

Hot Tips:

  • A key tenet of 21st Century classrooms is authentic assessment of student learning and achievement. Authentic assessments, which are developed to closely match the expected learning goals and desired skills, can be a great source of documentation for your evaluation; they can give you a full picture of what learning skills students are developing.
  • Many of the skills emphasized in 21st century learning—such as critical thinking or creativity —feel to children like a natural part of who they are, not unique, stand-alone skills. Mixed methods in evaluation – surveys, classroom observations, review of authentic assessments—give a broader view of how 21st Century Skills manifest in each student.
  • 21st Century Skills are not limited to either elementary or secondary grade levels, or to any one subject area. This is important because you can look for student, teacher and learning environment outcomes related to the 21st Century skills, even when they are not an explicit goal of your program or initiative.

Lessons Learned:

  • Teaching staff may see 21st Century Skills as one more demand on their already burdened teaching practice. It may also feel like the pedagogical “flavor of the month” if their administration responds frequently to new content or teaching strategies. In particular, as the Common Core Standards is pushing to the forefront of K-12 education, the 21st Century Skills may be left behind. I have found that framing 21st Century Skills as how kids learn, rather than what kids learn, helps focus the conversation on what we will and will not measure.

I love connecting and sharing ideas with other evaluators – connect with me on Twitter to have a conversation about this or other #eval topics!

Hot Tip: Take a minute and thank a teacher this week!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Educational Evaluation Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation AEA Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our EdEval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “EdEval Week: Deborah Mattila on Evaluation of Learning and Teaching 21st Century Skills”

  1. Hello Deborah:
    Thank you for your post on evaluating 21st century skills and highlighting the 4Cs – Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. I am presently taking a course entitle Collaborative Inquiry where we completed an article entitled “Constructivism – When It’s the Wrong Idea and When It’s the Only Idea” by Rand J. Spiro and Michael DeSchryver. I found this article particularly intriguing because the authors compared well-structured domains (which we typically find in schools) to ill-structured domains that are more true to real life, and argued for the need for schools to find suitable ways to teach students to solve ill-structured problems. It got me thinking that perhaps our elementary schools may be able to do more to bridge the gap between these two domains to better prepare our students for life beyond our classroom walls. 21st century skills are also fascinating to me, as they seem to hold the key to unlocking some of the skills that our students need to navigate the world in which we live in today. What are your findings with regards to how schools are performing in this area to ensure that this generation is prepared to navigate ill-structured domains in life? Are experiential learning, service learning, and project based learning adequate strategies to develop these 4 C’s in our students? Would you recommend any other ways to bridge this gap?


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