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Proceedings of ECER 2003 Roundtable on methodological approaches in European projects
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New assessment tools for cross-curricular competencies

Issues for discussion

Moderator

Jean-Paul, your research network investigated cross-curricular competencies in the domain of problem solving. You developed new assessment tool for measuring these problem solving skills. Could you describe the methodological approach of this collaborative research? 

Jean-Paul Reeff

I have to give a brief historical outline. In 1990 I proposed a research project for the Luxembourg ministry for developing a methodology for curriculum development. This became a major reform project of the whole VET system in Luxembourg. There were three main visions behind that: to get the VET system closer to the job and the new requirements; to develop a systematic methodology for doing so; and, as a pedagogical Leitmotiv, to apply a more holistic and project oriented approach. That was the first phase of the project from 1990 to 1994. It was pretty successful, but at the end we faced a couple of problems. A few teachers resisted the new methodology, and we also noticed that our test and assessment system was not appropriate for the new curricula. 

So we went for another four-year project for developing more appropriate test instruments for the vocational education system. Again, this was a more holistic approach, as expressed by the German term 'handlungsorientiertes Unterrichten und Lernen'. This approach is problem solving oriented. The basic ambition is to guide students through a more complex task; that's why it is also called a 'complete action oriented approach'. Instead of confronting students with isolated parts of knowledge it takes them through a whole action from analysing the problem up to the final solution. 

To give you an example in the field of vocational training: communications electronics. We developed one task where students faced the scenario of implementing a new telephone system in the flat of a customer. So they first had to identify what the customer really wants; make an analysis of that; make a plan; implement it at the level of the school; check it; and later on communicate the result of the whole work to the customer, simulated by teachers to different languages. 

This complete action was the basis for developing the so-called project approach which consisted of different scenarios to develop projects in order to assess the competence of students in different fields like communications electronics, mechanics and whatever. Again, this project phase was pretty much successful, but also considered as time-consuming and expensive. At that time, 1997/1998, the debate about PISA started, and I was in charge of PISA in Luxembourg. As you know, PISA was about assessing reading literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy, but also, from the very beginning, the ambition was there to assess cross-curricular competences. 

We decided to go for problem solving, picking up on the earlier work on assessment tools. The major challenge was to downsize the task to something which can be used within the constraints of a large-scale comparative study. This work was done in the European network (NATCCC-PS), and applied in the context of the international “Adult Literacy and Life skills Survey”. The instruments were further developed in a private research infrastructure which I set up. They were used, to a certain extent, within the PISA study 2003, and might be taken up again in something like a VET PISA in future. 

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