Measuring What Matters: Updating Report Cards to Assess Global Competence

The West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District is situated on land in New Jersey near Princeton University that was in 1938 the site of a massive invasion of Martians bent on destroying humanity.  At least that was the claim in Orson Wells’ famous radio drama, War of the Worlds, which induced widespread panic on the eastern seaboard and across the United States.

Today, the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District, an ISSN member district, is known not for space aliens, rather as one of the highest performing school systems in the state, with a deep commitment to developing globally competent youth.

One of the ways West Windsor-Plainsboro makes good on its promise of fostering youth able to thrive within a global (if not intergalactic) environment is by integrating the assessment of global competence in K-5 report cards.

According to Carl Cooper, Social Studies Supervisor for the district, there was dissatisfaction in the K-5 report card used across the district in how social studies performance was assessed because it only allowed teachers to provide a static assessment of how well students mastered specific units of study.  Teachers wanted instead to monitor student mastery of a broader set of 21st century competencies over the course of their elementary school journey.

Cooper recognized that the ISSN performance outcomes for grades 3-5, along with related student-facing “I can” statements for all the elementary grades, were an ideal starting point for reworking the social studies portion of the K-5 report card.   These performance indicators provide a progressively more complex set of indicators across the four domains of global competence: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas and take action.

Early in 2021, a working group was convened of teachers both deeply versed in the ISSN performance indicators, and a group of science teachers familiar with the NextGen Science Standards, who brought a critical eye on both the content and the comprehensibility of the indicators that would be used to report on students’ 21st century competencies to both parents and students.

 The result is a set of indicators that allow teachers to recognize in their rating of student performance and especially in their narrative observations how students’ 21st century competence can grow in depth and complexity over time.  For example, a set of indicators on the report card related to creative problem solving ask whether students take learning risks, consider multiple perspectives and display creativity and imagination.  While these prompts remain the same across grade levels, in their assessments teachers look for ever increasing levels of complexity in student thinking over the years.

Drawing on ISSN performance rubrics to guide their thinking, teachers consider whether Kindergartners can suggest how to solve a problem.  In second grade, they consider if students can identify different ways to make change and explain how a change may improve a problem. By fifth grade, the criteria for creative problem solving are even more complex, requiring students to explain a situation and identify and evaluate potential solutions.

Cooper says, “By habitually asking students about the world, to come up with solutions to problems, and to evaluate those solutions, we’re hoping to develop a mindset that will help them grow, learn and to take action in their own world.”  Put simply, students who are globally competent.