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The Revolution of Standardized Testing and Learning for Good Education

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As society has undergone certain changes including globalization and digitalization, education must keep up with such developments to prepare citizens to meet the new market demands (European Council, 2006; World Bank, 2019). Issues of sustainability such as climate change, inequalities, social cohesion are more relevant than ever and require concern and action from the entire population (European Commission 2018; Crick, 2008). A shift to competence-oriented education is crucial, as competences are transferrable and can be adapted through life to various contexts (Carnevale, Smith, & Melton, 2011). Competences encompass more than just a person’s skills and knowledge, but also their attitudes and values (Crick, 2008; Carnevale, Smith, & Melton 2011). To keep up with these changes, the European Parliament and Council adopted a recommendation on Key competences for Lifelong learning and outlined 8 equally important competences believed to be necessary to successfully function in today’s society (European Council, 2006). For instance, the multilingual competence ensures the ability to communicate in diverse societies, the digital competence allows for individuals to function in a society where already the majority of jobs require such knowledge and skills. Although the competences are all equally important, in recent trends there have shown an increased need for developing mathematical competence and competence in science, technology, and engineering, also known as STEM.

The integration of various subjects (math, science, technology, engineering, and math) represents the importance of integration, connection and transference of various skills (Stohlmann, Moore, & Roehrig, 2012). Subjects cannot be longer viewed in a silo and it’s crucial to recognize the importance of STEM competences outside STEM professions. These competences are relevant and must be transferrable to not only other non-STEM professions but also in other contexts. Recent studies show a gap between the demands of STEM professions and STEM education. STEM students are not sufficiently prepared to meet the demands of their future careers. The professions in STEM today require skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication, deductive reasoning, problem-solving which are reportedly lacking from STEM graduates (Jang 2015; Radermacher and Walia, 2013). There is currently a push towards introducing these 21st-century skills in education. This can be seen through the adoption of Arts into STEM programs, which aim to reform educational systems towards an emphasis on transversal skills such as problem solving and creativity (Kim & Kim, 2016). STEAM also aims to focus on connections of STEM subjects within real life contexts as well as to increase motivation among students in STEM (Haesen & Van de Put, 2018). Therefore, assessment of STEM and STEAM competences are especially valuable to ensure students are prepared to enter STEM careers. The purpose of this study is to critically review the current forms of assessment of STEM and STEAM competences as well as make recommendations regarding new forms of assessments focusing on transversal skills at the school level. This paper will also attempt to answer questions regarding the future of STEM and STEAM and the implications of new forms of assessment on school curriculum and teacher professional development.

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Assessment of STEM and STEAM competences are especially valuable to assess and promote STEM competences for all (Silver, & Snider, 2014) Since the adoption of the Key Competences many countries have shifted from subject-based to competence-based assessments (Crick, 2008). In countries such as Belgium assessment now considers both subjects and competences. France and Spain have also introduced new competence assessment and Luxembourg has focused on introducing new forms of assessment of transversal skills (Gordon et al., 2009). The question now remains as to the types of assessment used to measure STEM and STEAM competences. There is a combination of summative and formative assessments that are used such as international standardized tests, teacher assessments and portfolio assessment (Gordon et al., 2009). Although member states have implemented various national standardized tests, the discussion will look at international tests such as Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS).

TIMSS is a project of the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) and has been around since the 1960s. PISA and PIAAC, on the other hand, are assessments of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and have been around since the early 2000s. TIMSS assesses subjects such as reading, maths, and science in students grades 4 and 8 (Grønmo et al., 2015). PISA focuses on the assessment of 15-year old’s whereas PIAAC measures the skills in adults (Vayssettes, 2016). Although focusing on similar subjects such as literacy/reading, mathematics, and science TIMSS, PISA and PIAAC have fundamentally different aims. While TIMSS attempts to measure the knowledge or content and is more curriculum-oriented (Grønmo et al, 2015 ; Hutchison & Schagen 2006), PISA strays away from the curriculum and measures student’s application of that knowledge in everyday life, concepts such as drawing conclusions from evidence, decision-making, problem-solving, etc (Vayssettes, 2016; Hutchison, & Schagen, 2006). Both TIMSS, PISA, and PIAAC use student, teacher and school questionnaires to attempt to better understand the differences in performance among various countries (Hutchison, & Schagen, 2006; Rutkowski, & Rutkowski, 2013)

International Standardized Tests such as PISA, TIMSS, and PIACC have undergone much scrutiny in the last decades. There have been many issues with such testing that have been pointed out, ranging from validity of the testing to its impacts on the national curriculum. PISA being one of the most influential of the standardized tests mentioned, it has been widely criticized since the publication of the first study in 2000. A systematic literature review conducted by Hopfenbeck et al., (2017) revealed that more than 1000 publications have been published, with a large number focusing on the consequences and the fallbacks on the test itself.

One major criticism of standardized testing has been language and translation issues and the impacts they potentially have on student outcomes. All the international standardized tests such as PISA, PIAAC and TIMSS are created in a source language, usually, English which is then double translated into the languages of participating countries (Arffman, 2013; Hobfenbeck et al., 2017). In consequence, this results in mistranslations (Arffman, 2013), the difference in language style, tone, difficulty and length (Arffman,2010; Eivers, 2010). This may have consequences on student’s performance as longer and more difficult tests not only create a disadvantage in terms of the timing but also student’s attention and interest in the test. For tests to be comparable across all participating countries these issues must be addressed as it creates disadvantages for non-anglophone students. Also, standardized testing often focuses on certain subjects, while excluding others. In most, the focus is usually on reading, mathematics, and science and not on transversal skills such as creativity (Froese-Germain 2010; Meyer & Zahedi, 2014).

Although the OECD or the IEA does not directly have influence over the curriculum, it’s media attention in the last decades has caught the attention of not only parents and teachers, but also policymakers (Griffin, & Care 2015). Countries such as Germany and Sweden are often used as exemplary cases nation-wide curriculum reform designed to increase the countries rankings in PISA (Froese-Germain 2010; Meyer & Zahedi, 2014; Ringarp, 2016) The frequency at which these standardized tests are conducted has shifted a focus on “short-term” solutions in educational reform. In turn, the increased popularity and importance of standardized testing have also had major implications for instructional approaches used in classrooms. In various countries, test preparation becomes the focus of teaching as many teachers feel the pressure to improve their countries rankings (Meyer & Zahedi, 2014; Ringarp, 2016).

However, it hasn’t only been the countries’ curriculum that has had changes in recent years. Standardized tests have also been undergoing certain changes to align with the shift towards 21st-century skills. In 2015 PISA began incorporating transversal skills such as collaborative problem solving, recognizing the shift of curriculum and instruction to teaching and assessing 21st-century skills (Griffin, & Care 2015; IEA, 2019). The IEA is also looking towards the future and recognizing the importance of preparing students for life in the digital age. In 2013 they began organizing an international comparative study to measure students’ computer and information literacy CIL (Griffin, & Care 2015; IEA, 2019). The aim is to measure students’ computer and digital skills and their ability to search and evaluate information found online. These are just a few examples that show the importance and need for new forms of assessment for STEM and STEAM competences. This research paper will provide valuable insights regarding the current forms of assessment used in STEAM and STEM education and will make recommendations regarding the changes required to align with the need to incorporate an approach to the teaching of 21st century skills. The foreseen impact of this paper would be an impact on the assessment and policies regarding STEM and STEAM curriculum as well as teacher education as it pertains to those competences.

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