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Sweden: The Answer Isn't A. B. B. A.

In the last century, filling in A, B, C, D bubbles has become almost as ubiquitous as the ABCs themselves. Multiple choice assessments—whether a quiz or a high–stakes test—help gauge students' knowledge, and by extension some argue, teaching success.

The expectations for learning in an interconnected world are different from those common in the twentieth century. The objectives of a useful education now include real-life applications for knowledge, the ability to analyze and solve problems, the development of effective communication skills, the ability to learn collaboratively as well as independently, and skill in using technology to acquire information. When learning goals change, ways of assessing learning must change as well.

The new Common Core standards have led to the creation of two new assessment systems, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium. As these systems are being developed and states are choosing which is right for them, it is helpful to take a look at what other countries have already implemented to assess these 21st century skills.

One example can be found in Sweden's National Tests and National Assessments document, which illustrates new outcomes for a global approach to learning and the way they play out in assessment. Outcomes for the education of Swedish students include, for instance, specific content in mathematics, the ability to use mathematics in everyday life, and the ability to use new technology for research. These goals are shared by most U.S. educators, but other learning outcomes are less typical by U.S. standards. Here is a partial listing for Swedish students:


  • develop curiosity and a desire to learn

  • develop their own way of learning

  • develop confidence in their own ability

  • learn to listen, discuss, and respond

  • use knowledge as a tool to form and test assumptions as well as solve problems.

Self–assessment is one tool used in the Swedish system. Students are presented with a list of everyday tasks, from reading a television program guide and working out math with or without a calculator, to their ability to work with others. They self–assess by indicating whether they are "very sure, pretty sure, unsure, or very unsure" about their ability to complete each task. Swedish educators use a variety of ways to determine student mastery of national requirements. Some methods are more typical than others, but each is used to measure outcomes that are new and different from those of previous generations.

On a practical level, assessments should also reflect the type of learning projects in which students engage. Performances and demonstrations of learning are part of authentic assessment and are often more suited to illustrating learning than written products.

This rationale holds for any student who is challenged by traditional testing formats and makes a solid case for a variety of authentic assessments in the classroom, particularly those that best match the nature of the learning task. Here's what this idea looks like in practice:


  • Instead of written answers to an assessment, students might select pictures or other media that answer the questions.

  • Students demonstrate learning by preparing an artistic representation or dramatic re-enactment.

  • To assess use of technology, students create multimedia presentations, produce a film, create a broadcast, build a webpage, or use Internet search engines to locate resources.
  • The ways students highlight an issue and inform others about it can also be authentically assessed. These activities could include publishing a class newspaper, creating a mural, spearheading a service learning project, coordinating a classroom recycling project, or heading a school-level campaign for student council.
  • Creating real-life scenarios that enable students to develop and apply critical thinking and problem solving skills is another authentic way to assess learning.

An added benefit of these assessments is that those involving demonstrations, technology presentations, and the arts are usually much more motivating for students. They also frequently get at subtle or nuanced skills and knowledge that other assessments don't detect.

We would like to hear from you: How have performance-based assessments worked in your classroom?

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