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Behind the Design of the New PLTW Assessment

Behind the Design of the New PLTW Assessment

This PLTW Blog entry is an excerpt from the white paper, “Reinventing the High School Assessment: A Way to Measure What Matters Most”. You can download the full white paper here.

In the 2018-19 school year, Project Lead The Way students will take a first-of-its-kind assessment that has been designed with the insights and validation from representatives in education and industry.

The PLTW Test Advisory Panel – a coalition of secondary educators, higher education representatives, and industry experts – converged in January 2018 to identify what information should be measured by a high school test that would have meaning across all three sectors and would have clear and tangible value for students.

The result of this collaboration is a new type of classroom assessment that measures what’s most critical to students’ lifelong career success and provides students meaningful results that they can use to prove their potential.

For the first time in secondary education, PLTW’s new End-of-Course (EoC) Assessment measures both subject-matter knowledge as well as in-demand, transportable skills – including problem solving, critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and ethical reasoning and mindset.

“If we value it, we must assess it. We can’t leave [these] skills to just the classroom experience; we must also assess these skills,” said panelist R.D. Parpart, a team lead for ArcelorMittal’s Steelworker for the Future program in northern Indiana.

Facilitated by nationally recognized psychometricians who serve on the PLTW Technical Advisory Committee, the PLTW Test Advisory Panel includes deans, faculty members, hiring managers, engineers, CEOs, technology architects, research scientists, data engineers, and more from Vanderbilt University, Duke University, Texas A&M University, the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship, NASA’s Minnesota Space Grant Consortium, KC STEM Alliance, FedEx Express, John Deere, Eli Lilly, Salesforce, Sanford Research, and others, as well as PLTW schools across the country.

Over two days, participants gathered into cross-functional groups aligned to PLTW’s three pathways – computer science, engineering, and biomedical science – as well as the transportable skills that industry experts, higher education representatives, and secondary education teachers recognize as critical for success in each of these spheres. They identified:

  1. The content and career skills that are most essential for students to master from each of the PLTW courses;
  2. Which of the content and skills should be included within a test in order for the resulting score to have the most powerful meaning to industry and higher education entities to whom a student may present the score;
  3. The degree of representation of those identified subject-matter areas and skills on the assessment (e.g., how much of the test is focused on measuring a particular skill or content); and
  4. The types of test items that would measure those skills and content knowledge in a way that seemed authentic and meaningful to the members (e.g., multiple-step multiple choice, simulations, situational judgment, technology-enhanced, or others).

“For industry, this has long-term impact. It’s more about shaping the students who will then become part of industry,” said Satish Subramanian, marketing manager at Dremel DigiLab, Robert Bosch Tool Corporation NA and PLTW Test Advisory Panelist. “So five to 10 years down the road, industry will be way better off with having students who are ready right out of the gate to make an impact.”

Innovative items provide the foundation for measuring students’ transportable skills. Through the use of simulations, video stimuli, situational judgment items, and more, the new EoC Assessment measures a broader range of knowledge, skills, and cognitive abilities that have traditionally been difficult to measure through a standardized, objective assessment. Using innovative items, the PLTW Assessment delivers a dynamic experience that resembles the hands-on learning context of the PLTW classroom.

Since January, PLTW has continued bringing together these highly respected representatives from industry and education to design the test items that will appear on the new EoC Assessment. During a recent item design panel, participants focused on ethics.

“It’s cybersecurity, and it’s every course we offer. Human Body Systems, Principles of Biomedical Science, Engineering,” said PLTW President and CEO Dr. Vince Bertram, regarding the importance of ethics. “Students have to make a decision whether they’re doing things for good or evil. In many cases in our programs, there is a clear distinction and there are clear choices they have to make on a regular basis. We want them to make good choices. What if you get into an engineering project and you have to deal with corruption? Or you have to cut costs by 10 percent and you’re looking to cut corners. How do you do that in a way that doesn’t jeopardize safety and peoples’ lives? Or cybersecurity: You can hack; you can do it for good or evil. We want our students to know the difference.”

By developing an assessment that captures the combination of subject-matter knowledge and transportable career skills that have for years empowered PLTW students to succeed in higher education and industry, PLTW can provide an important tool for students to promote their preparedness for college and careers, and access more opportunities beyond secondary education.

Students who take the new EoC Assessment will receive a score report highlighting their subject-matter knowledge and mastery of transportable skills. They can share this report with higher education institutions and employers for exclusive opportunities only available to PLTW students.

“That’s one of the most exciting parts,” says PLTW Chief Legal and Assessment Officer Michelle Gough, J.D., Ph.D. “Students will be able to send their score reports to higher education institutions and industries who will use that information to offer internships, perhaps market to the students what their industry does, scholarship opportunities, and admissions opportunities.”

With access to key information provided in the score report, students can see which skills they’ve mastered, and where they need to improve. Likewise, colleges and employers can identify which students have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in school and beyond.

“What I really love about it and why I’m putting in the time is how relevant it will be for the students,” said Dr. Julye Adams, PLTW Biomedical Science Master Teacher from Kentucky, who has been involved in the assessment development. “It’s not just a score for me to look at or for us to tell how good our teaching is or how well they understand something; they can actually break this down and look at it and see the areas they need to improve in. And then they can use these scores to not only go on to higher education, but also [put them] on a resume.”

“Our purpose is not to prepare students for college, but to prepare them for a career and a life of economic prosperity,” Bertram says. “When we think about those skills – the ability to problem-solve, to think critically, to communicate, to collaborate – we really haven’t had a way to signal those skills to future employers. The new PLTW Assessment will allow us to do that.”