Education World Forum- ATC21S Update


Last week, Microsoft participated in the largest gathering of Ministers of Education in Europe and around the world at the Education World Forum.  At the forum, discussion of ensuring our students have the right skills to compete in this global economy was top of mind.  In partnership with Cisco and Intel, with the leadership of University of Melbourne we had the opportunity to participate in two ministerial exchange sessions.  During these sessions, the Executive Director, Patrick Griffin gave an update on the progress of the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills Research Project, Singapore and Australia highlighted how they are engaging in the project and hope for how the project will influence the work they are doing in their countries and lastly the ministers discussed what are the policy, curriculum and professional development implications of implementing these new types of assessments and teaching interventions in their countries.


The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) project is focused on defining those skills and developing ways to assess them.  By achieving this, the project aims to promote the teaching and assessment of twenty first century skills at government, school system, school and teacher levels. By collaborating with other large employers, the companies aim to influence employer hiring strategies to emphasize these skills among new employees. By placing the assessment materials and technical components in the public domain and by making them available to large scale survey strategies, the project aims to influence a broad range of countries by publishing cross national studies of student attainment in twenty first century skills.  These three approaches to the transformation of education, government involvement, company employment criteria and cross national assessments of skill levels will act as a multi-pronged stimulus to curriculum change and enable schools to prepare students for living, working and thinking in the twenty first century.


There are many international and national assessment programs, assessment organizations, NGOs, businesses, research centers and individual researchers working on the specification of 21st century skills.  This collaboration does not presume that one form of assessment should be imposed on every community. The goal is not to develop one assessment format. Rather, it is intended that there will be support for conceptual, methodological, and technological advances in assessment that can support the parallel efforts of many organizations and countries. It is expected that the assessment and teaching process developed within ATC21S will provide an exemplar framework that countries and organizations can use or draw upon with confidence. The project also aims to help inform the development of the next versions of cross national benchmarks such as PISA and IEA ICT assessment, as well as other international and national assessments in the next three to five years.  Already PISA has called for tenders to develop both the assessment and delivery platform for one of the ATC21S skills (Collaborative Problem Solving) under development.


The project has been planned to consist of 5 phases:

1.      Conceptualizing the program and the development of a series of white papers

2.      Hypothesis formation and development of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies

3.      Coding and administration development

4.      Trials of the assessments and teaching and learning strategies

5.      Dissemination of the output to the greater education community: providing assessment tasks, teaching notes, developmental learning progressions, research papers, and technology to support the classroom as an open and shared source, with everything to be open to the public domain or use.


The project is currently at the coding and administration development phase and hope to enter the trials phase in the second half of calendar year 2011.  In discussing with the ministers in London, the excitement around this project is three-fold:

  • No one has to date defined learning progressions for these 21st century skills. The learning progressions define levels such as the progression from novice to expert.  For example what is a novice, moderate, expert at collaborative problem solving?  Assessments to monitor developing competence and the relevant teaching interventions are needed to help a student grow in competence (and perhaps confidence) in order to demonstrate higher levels of performance and competence.
  • Today, most large scale cross national testing programs (e.g. PISA) results take a number of months’ or even years delay’ to provide feedback to systems, teachers and students. In addition they generally do not provide information to teachers on how to intervene or help students develop to higher levels of thinking or competence. Most formative assessments require teachers to observe, rate performance (often on very poor quality rubrics) and then decide on how to intervene. The rubric and the judgment error involved have led to a loss of credibility for this form of assessment, sometimes because of human error but also because of the poor quality of the scoring rubrics.  The goal of this project is to create an automated system that as the student is doing the assessments the teacher is notified regarding learning intervention and students receive instant feedback.  The project also intends to “background” quantitative data that educational jurisdictions can collect in order to make summative decisions at a system level. The systems will be able to identify the areas in which cohorts of sub groups of students are struggling and make appropriate curriculum change decisions or promulgate investments to increase effectiveness and efficiencies. These decisions will be able to be made in a much reduced time frame.
  • This is an international project with researchers and teaching practitioners working in 4 founder countries and possibly 3 associate countries. It will create an international standard and help encourage the learning environment needed to teach 21st century skills.

To learn more about the ATC21S Project, please visit; participate in the linked-in community; contact the Executive Director Patrick Griffin or Microsoft Lead Rane Johnson-Stempson.  To learn more about our work with governments around the world visit: Education Leadership Website

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