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Student Assessments for 21st-Century Needs

Students from a NAF Academy of Engineering in San Francisco gain internship experience on construction sites of major transit projects.
Students from a NAF Academy of Engineering in San Francisco gain internship experience on construction sites of major transit projects.

A new assessment system for high school students providing multiple measures of college and career readiness launched this fall, helping students in career-themed public high schools understand what skills they need to enter the 21st-century workforce. The National Academy Foundation (NAF), the largest developer of career-themed public high schools in the country, partnered with education research agency WestEd to create the multi-method test, marking a move toward more effectively measuring college and career readiness.

While typical school career assessments involve a single multiple-choice item test, the NAF assessment provides a more holistic view of student achievement, according to Colleen Devery, NAF assistant vice president of strategic initiatives. “Compared to some of the older tests that measure what a student knows, this is an assessment that shows what the student can do,” she adds.

The assessment includes three components: an end-of-course exam, a project evaluation, and an internship assessment. While end-of-course exams are familiar to many, the culminating projects are a more comprehensive way to measure achievement, says Michael Strait, NAF director of student certification and assessment. For example, freshmen in a Principles of Information Technology class at a NAF Information Technology school could design a computer system for a client in their community as a semester-long project. The teacher makes a final assessment considering students’ application of content knowledge, course skills, collaboration, and self-reflection. Finally, the internship component usually takes place over a summer, before graduation, and students are evaluated by their supervisor as if they were employees.

The assessment became available to NAF academies in the fall, and up to 80 of these schools nationwide will be using it by the end of the school year. There are 500 NAF academies in the United States, serving 60,000 students. While the exam and project evaluation are specific to NAF courses, districts can tailor this model to their own courses, Strait says. The internship assessment has received attention beyond NAF academies as an important measure of college and career readiness, and is expected to be widely adopted by schools with internship programs, he adds.

NAF academies can be small learning communities within larger schools, or stand-alone public high schools, and are organized around a career theme: Finance, Hospitality & Tourism, Information Technology, Health Sciences, or Engineering. About 30 percent of students end up pursuing a career in a related field, Devery says.

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