South Dakota Mandates Statewide Testing in 21st Century Skills

South Dakota has become the first state in the United States to require all eighth-grade students to be tested on 21st century skills. The state Department of Education has chosen the skills assessment program offered by Learning.com to judge student proficiency in a number of areas, most of them related to skills in Internet usage and widely-used software applications.

The statewide assessment, said a Learning.com spokesperson, correlates to the South Dakota Educational Technology Standards, developed by educators and education technology experts, and tests for proficiency in five major categories:

  • Communication and Collaboration;
  • Research and Information Fluency;
  • Critical Thinking, Problem Solving and Decision Making;
  • Digital Citizenship; and
  • Technology Operations and Concepts.

A sixth category, Creativity and Innovation, is also included in the assessment, although this area is not a "skill" per se, and there has been some controversy within the education community over how the category might be standardized and assessed.

The tests include both multiple choice questions and performance-based tasks to assess how student apply their fundamental knowledge. The latter are assessed by educators in accordance with a set of standards pre-approved by state officials.

Proficiency results overall and for each skill category are classified as Advanced, Proficient, Basic or Below Basic. All results are reported for the district, school, class, and individual student levels, allowing districts to recommend solutions for improvement at each necessary level, and aggregate reports are made at the district and state levels.

The assessment was first administered in Spring 2009, and will be given again in 2010.

About the Author

Scott Aronowitz is a freelance writer based in Las Vegas. He has covered the technology, advertising, and entertainment sectors for seven years. He can be reached here.

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