Best Practices inSoft Skills AssessmentFebruary 2014In the following report, Hanover Research examines best practices in measuring soft skills,such as teamwork, creativity, and character, with a focus on soft skill assessmentsembedded into the core academic curriculum.
Hanover Research February 2014TABLE OF CONTENTSExecutive Summary and Key Findings . 3INTRODUCTION . 3KEY FINDINGS . 3Section I: Best Practices in Soft Skills Assessment . 5IMPACT .5ASSESSMENT AND CURRICULUM . 6ASSESSMENT CHALLENGES . 8ASSESSMENT AND REPORTING SCHEMES . 10Standards‐Based Report Cards . 10Portfolio Assessment . 11Badges . 12Section II: Profiles . 14CATALINA FOOTHILLS SCHOOL DISTRICT . 14PLYMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL . 16NEW TECHNOLOGY HIGH SCHOOL . 18 2014 Hanover Research District Administration Practice2
Hanover Research February 2014EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND KEY FINDINGSINTRODUCTIONNationwide, educators have grown increasingly aware of the important role that soft skillsplay in ensuring students are adequately prepared to enter college and the workforce.Unfortunately, however, traditional instruction and assessment do not always provide theappropriate tools for developing and measuring student success outside of traditionalacademic subject areas. This report examines these issues in soft skills assessment with afocus on assessment strategies that may be successfully embedded within the coreacademic curriculum. Section I: Best Practices in Soft Skills Assessment briefly describes the impact ofsoft skills instruction and assessment, discusses the relationship between soft skillsassessment and the core academic curriculum, examines common challenges toassessing soft skills, and describes three alternative reporting schemes for trackingstudent progress in the development of soft skills. Section II: Profiles describes assessment practices implemented by three exemplarsin soft skills instruction and assessment: Catalina Foothills School District in Tucson,Arizona, Plymouth High School in Plymouth, Wisconsin, and New Technology HighSchool in Napa Valley, California.KEY FINDINGS Soft skills assessment is highly dependent upon the core academic curriculum.Researchers and educators agree that soft skills instruction should be embedded inthe core curriculum, and, as a result, assessment practices must also align withthose of the academic curriculum. Districts and schools with a focus on soft skillsmay assess specific soft skills as they apply to individual subject areas or assess a setof common soft skills that apply across all subject areas. A project‐based curriculumpermits simultaneous instruction and assessment in both the core academiccurriculum and in a range of soft skills. Educators face unique challenges in assessing soft skills. Some educators haveexpressed concern that quantifying student achievement in certain areas, such ascollaboration, creativity, and character, may actually discourage the development ofthese skills. Educators have attempted to overcome these concerns by ensuring thatstudents, teachers, and parents approach these assessments with the propercontext and understand how to use these assessments as instructional tools. Educators may need to adopt non‐traditional methods of reporting studentprogress to adequately capture growth in soft skill development. Standards‐basedreport cards provide details of student progress in specific dimensions, which canimprove the use of report cards in improving specific student outcomes. Portfoliograding can provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate soft skills across 2014 Hanover Research District Administration Practice3
Hanover Research February 2014multiple core academic subject areas. Further, digital badges have recently emergedas an engaging technique for tracking and recognizing student progress in thedevelopment of specific non‐academic skills. Districts and schools recognized for their success in developing student soft skillsembed soft skills instruction and assessment across the curriculum. The CatalinaFoothills School District uses standards‐based report cards to track student progressin specific soft skill dimensions essential to each academic subject. Plymouth HighSchool teachers all assess student progress in the four soft skills emphasized acrossthe curriculum, and New Technology High School provides students with manyopportunities to demonstrate soft skill development both inside and outside of theclassroom. 2014 Hanover Research District Administration Practice4
Hanover Research February 2014SECTION I: BEST PRACTICES IN SOFT SKILLSASSESSMENTThis section briefly describes the impact of soft skills instruction and assessment, discussesthe relationship between soft skills assessment and the core academic curriculum, examinescommon challenges to assessing soft skills, and describes three alternative reportingschemes for tracking student progress in the development of soft skills.IMPACTIn recent years, a large body of research has established the importance of soft skills infostering student academic achievement and long‐term success. Some educators considersoft skills essential for the application of lessons learned in core academic subjects. Theseeducators frequently frame soft skill development as complementary to instruction in coreacademic areas and commend schools with a “balanced approach” for producing graduateswith “both rigorous content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledgesuccessfully.”1 Other researchers and educators highlight the direct impact of soft skilldevelopment on achievement in core academic subjects. Students who participate incooperative learning, for example, not only improve teamwork skills but also learn fasterand more efficiently, are more likely to persist in their education, and feel more positiveabout learning than students taught in traditional classroom settings.2Leaders in education and industry also consider soft skill development essential for careerpreparation. A 2006 study conducted by the Conference Board in collaboration with thePartnership for 21st Century Schools (P21) found that a substantial proportion of employersconsider recent high school graduates deficient in a number of applied skills such ascollaboration and creativity. Figure 1.1 on the following page describes employer ratings ofthe preparedness of recent high school graduates four key college and career readinessskills. As educators recognize the growing importance of soft skill development in studentoutcomes, effective assessment becomes increasingly critical to school improvementefforts.1Gaines, R., Mohammed, M. “Soft Skills Development in K‐12 Education: Research Brief.” Georgia LeadershipInstitute for School Improvement, 2013, p 1.http://www.glisi.org/sites/default/files/GLISI SSResearchBrief E1.pdf2“Cooperative Learning.” Johns Hopkins University, egies/topics/Cooperative%20Learning/ 2014 Hanover Research District Administration Practice5
Hanover Research February 2014Figure 1.1: Employer Ratings of Recent High School %Ethics/Social 53%54%Critical Thinking/Problem Solving44%70%0%20%5%40%30%60%80%100%Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills3ASSESSMENT AND CURRICULUMLeaders in college and career readiness recommend that academic instruction and softskill development occur simultaneously to meet student needs and curricular objectives.4Researchers emphasize that not only are soft skills “best taught within traditionaldisciplines,” but also that programs designed to teach soft skills without a broader contexthave shown limited evidence of success.5 Thus, how a school or district chooses to assesssoft skills is highly dependent upon the school curriculum.Districts and schools have adopted many approaches to incorporating soft skills into theacademic curriculum. Often, schools select specific soft skills to emphasize across allsubjects and grade levels. For example, Metro Schools of Design in Corpus Christi, Texasrequires all teachers to assess students in their academic content areas and in five “core 21stcentury skills,” including collaboration, creativity, communication, professional ethics, andcritical thinking. All teachers within the schools use common, multi‐dimensional rubrics tograde students in each of these areas.6 Similar soft skills curriculum and assessmentschemes are employed by the Catalina Foothills School District in Arizona and PlymouthHigh School in Wisconsin, each identified as exemplars in soft skill instruction and profiled inSection II of this report.3“Are They Really Ready to Work?” P21, 2006, p. 32.http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/FINAL REPORT PDF09‐29‐06.pdf4“College and Career Readiness: What Do We Mean?” ConnectEd: California Center for College and Career. January,2012, p. 17. Framework V1‐1 2012 0126.pdf5Jerald, C. “Defining a 21st Century Education.” The Center for Public Education, 2009, p. 59.http://www.cfsd16.org/public/ century/pdf/Defininga21stCenturyEducation Jerald 2009.pdf6“21st Century Learning Integrates Knowledge and Applied‐Knowledge Skills.” Metro Schools of nk 2014 Hanover Research District Administration Practice6
Hanover Research February 2014In some cases, soft skill assessment varies from subject to subject. For example, New YorkCity Public Schools has published “priority benchmark skills” and accompanying assessmentsin information fluency that link the skills required for library research with specific soft skills,including the pursuit of personal and aesthetic growth and the demonstration of socialresponsibility. Language arts teachers and librarians may use the benchmarks andaccompanying assessments in daily instruction of academic skills as well as personaldevelopment.7 This model differs from that employed by the Metro Schools of Design andother exemplar districts in that the rubrics used to assess student progress are subject‐specific and do not necessarily apply across the curriculum.While educators employ many strategies to integrate soft skills within the curriculum,project‐based learning is widely considered one of the most effective instructionaltechniques for teaching and assessing 21st century skills. Through project‐based learning,students engage in meaningful, long‐term projects to develop and demonstrate essentialskills. Not only does project‐based learning require students to apply soft skills, but it alsoprovides teachers with opportunities to directly assess student progress in establishedstandards related to soft skill development. A successful project‐based assessmentframework, however, requires the adoption of a project‐based curriculum.8In most cases, the adoption of a new soft skills assessment scheme will necessitate changesin the curriculum. Proponents of project‐based learning contend that 21st century skills “arenot measureable through standardized tests” and that effective teaching of these skills willnecessitate a shift toward more “authentic” assessment.9 P21, which also endorses project‐based learning, recommends against using traditional testing models to measure studentprogress on the grounds that that these models fail to adequately measure essentialstudent skills and effectively inform instruction.10While instruction in soft skills must be integrated within the academic curriculum foreffective assessment, educators also note the value of promoting soft skills outside of theclassroom setting. Extra‐curricular settings, such as afterschool programs, athletics, andclubs, can be natural environments for soft skill development.11 The end of this sectiondiscusses the use of digital badges to track student progress in soft skill development, whichcould provide educators with the opportunity to assess soft skills in multiple settings.7“Information Fluency Continuum: K‐12 Priority Benchmark Skills and Assessments.” New York City Public orityBenhmarkSkillsandAssessments.pdf8Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., “The Main Course, Not Dessert.” Buck Institute for Education, 2010, pp. 1‐4.http://images.bie.org/uploads/useful stuff/Main Course.pdf9Bell, S. “Project‐Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future.