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Partnership for 21st Century Skills Releases State Implementation Guides

Posted Nov 13, 2009
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The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) has released the State Implementation Guides – which offer best practices on building standards, assessments, curriculum and instruction, professional development, and learning environments – to help integrate skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication more purposefully into core academic subjects.


The Partnership released the guides at ASCD’s Fall Conference on Teaching and Learning after receiving extensive feedback from practitioners, policy-makers, academics, business and community leaders and others throughout the year, including during the P21 Cyber and National Summits in June, 2009.  



Standards drive the curricula that schools follow, the materials students are exposed to and the tests they take, according to the Standards Guide. In addition, standards establish the levels of performance that students, teachers, and schools are expected to meet. Against the backdrop of the common core standards initiative (CCSI), which stresses career and college readiness, the Standards Implementation Guide offers guidance for all states that are considering revisions to their core academic content standards.


The guide recommends that states:

* Create standards that are an inch-wide and mile-deep by communicating essential understandings or habits of mind for each subject area, rather than focusing on a list of facts

* Integrate 21st century skills into core subject standards and consider the emerging examples set by New Jersey, North Carolina, Wisconsin and West Virginia

* Make standards observable, measurable, and aligned with key 21st century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving.



Today’s K-12 assessments predominantly measure memorization of discrete facts, not the ability to apply that knowledge across disciplines, notes the Assessment Guide. To provide a rigorous education, accountability systems must be improved to measure whether students have deep knowledge of core academic subjects and the ability to think critically, problem solve and effectively communicate information about that knowledge. It is inherently important, but also difficult to create tests that demonstrate which teaching efforts result in better knowledge and skill acquisition. The guide offers several recommendations to states to help build rigorous assessments, including: 

* Incorporate a broader use of performance-based measures that focus on higher order thinking;

* Measure skills alongside content

* Build skills into formative assessment strategies by providing teachers with rubrics, checklists and professional development.


Curriculum and Instruction

According to the Curriculum and Instruction Guide, student mastery of core academic subjects and skills should be recognized as two critical outcomes of teaching and learning. Consequently, curriculum and instruction strategies must be designed to enhance content and skill acquisition. The guide notes that educators cannot teach skills devoid of content nor can educators effectively teach core academic subjects without teaching skills.


The guide recommends states:

* Develop curriculum that is designed to produce deep understanding of core academic subjects and authentic application of 21st century skills

* Implement "Teach for Understanding" principles to help develop and deliver lessons and units that connect essential concepts and skills

* Create meaningful, real-world opportunities for students to demonstrate content and skill mastery.


Professional Development

The Professional Development guide notes that all professional development efforts should exist as part of an aligned system of teaching and learning that includes standards, curriculum, instruction and assessments. To build successful professional development initiatives, focused on integrating skills into content, states should:

* Develop intensive teacher professional development programs that focus on enhancing skills and knowledge acquisition in the teaching of core subjects.

* Build capacity by working with educators to create an environment of differentiated professional learning, risk taking and collaborative relationships, as evidenced by ASCD’s Teacher Leader Capacity-Building Model.


Learning Environments

Typically, learning environments are thought of as physical spaces, notes the Learning Environments Guide. However, the Guide suggests learning environments be viewed as the support systems that organize the condition in which humans learn best, i.e., learning environments should accommodate the needs of each student and support the development of the whole child, ensuring their academic as well as their emotional, social, and physical development.


To best design environments that promote student achievement, the Guide recommends states:

* Move toward more flexible units of time that enable project-based work and away from the "seat time" approach to gauging student progress.

* Empower the "people network" by moving teachers from isolation to connection and providing educators with the means to refine their knowledge and skills in collaborative and supportive environments.


A full set of recommendations are available at or on P21’s tools and resources page.


Source: The Partnership for 21st Century Skills,

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