Employability Skills Framework

Overview of Assessment

This Assessment section is intended to help state and local administrators, policy makers, and practitioners in adult education and career and technical education (CTE) think through important issues related to selecting an employability skills assessment. The descriptions on each page of this section provide a simple overview of fairly complex concepts. For more detailed information, see the Resources page.

The first step in selecting an appropriate employability skills assessment requires a clear understanding of the purpose and use of assessments. Recognizing the value of different types of assessments will help you examine your current assessment practices and identify selection criteria to meet your assessment goals.

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Why assess employability skills?

Employability skills are an essential component of college and career readiness and a necessity for individuals of all ages to succeed in a competitive global economy. Research efforts to date have primarily focused on identifying these skills; however, attention is increasingly directed towards developing assessments to measure employability skills, both by educators seeking to identify and address skill gaps, and by employers to inform hiring decisions and reduce on-the-job retraining needs.

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Factors in assessing employability skills

A number of factors influence the assessment of employability skills. The extent to which a set of employability skills are defined can have an impact on both instruction and assessment. The definition of skills and knowledge must be specific and agreed upon to ensure that an assessment’s content and construct align with the skills being taught and measured.

Research suggests that the acquisition and demonstration of employability skills, particularly cognitive skills, are tied to specific subject knowledge and contexts. In other words, individuals do not apply these skills generally; the skills are demonstrated as part of an individual’s deeper knowledge of a topic or subject and understanding of a particular context. An employability assessment, therefore, must measure not only skills, but also the application of those skills in real-world contexts and within specific disciplines.

Some assessments exist that measure employability skills for differing purposes, such as exploring occupations that match students’ skills and interests and determining general readiness for employment or for jobs within a specific industry, sector or occupation. Notwithstanding the availability of commercial assessments, local or state assessment goals may call for assessments that are more closely embedded in the teaching and learning process or tied to specific local or state-defined outcomes. If these tools do not already exist, they may need to be developed by state or local programs.

Ultimately, employability assessments should enhance, not duplicate, existing assessment practices. Defining the purpose of the assessment and how results will be used (e.g., to inform instruction and learning, document student mastery of skills, or inform hiring decisions) will help to determine if existing assessments are appropriate or if new methods will better measure the employability skills. One assessment, cannot meet all of the needs of instructors, students, programs, and employers. Given these different needs, a variety of types and methods of assessments may be considered and, ultimately, coordinated as part of a comprehensive assessment strategy.

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Types of assessments

Assessments generally are used to measure how well content is being taught, students’ progress and mastery of skills, and program effectiveness. Assessment results also are used to refine teaching and learning goals, improve instruction, align curriculum and standards with assessment, make policy decisions, and hold programs accountable.

Assessments can have both formative and summative purposes. Formative assessments are embedded in the teaching and learning cycle to monitor student learning and progress and provide ongoing feedback to both instructors and students. Feedback can motivate student learning by identifying gaps in understanding, encouraging self-assessment and peer collaboration, and demonstrating incremental progress and the real-world application of knowledge and skills. Instructors use results to adapt curriculum and instruction based on student needs. Summative assessments generally are administered at the beginning and end of an instructional period, such as a semester or school year, and measure skill mastery—whether or not students actually learned the content. Summative assessments often are used as an accountability tool to report on student achievement and program effectiveness and to make programmatic policy decisions. Depending on the type of assessment, an employability assessment can also help employers gauge student readiness for prospective jobs.

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Assessment methods

A variety of assessment methods should be considered when measuring employability skills. Considerations include not only how the assessment is administered (i.e., orally, on paper, or by computer), but also the kinds of tasks students must complete (i.e., question, scenario, or simulation) and how students are expected to respond (i.e., select an answer, write an essay, assemble a portfolio, demonstrate a skill in a specific context, and other performance-based responses).

Both administration and scoring procedures are important factors to consider. Selected-response items require students to choose from a list of existing answers, such as multiple choice, matching, and true-false questions. While selected-response assessments may be easier to administer and score than constructed-response assessments, they may not adequately measure some employability skills, such as interpersonal skills or the real-world application of these skills. Constructed-response items, on the other hand, require students to generate their own answer, and usually must be scored by a person (i.e., a trained rater to assure reliability), not a machine, making them more time consuming and expensive.

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Value and components of a comprehensive assessment strategy

Depending on the need for an employability assessment, it may be more effective to consider a comprehensive assessment strategy that provides a strategic and integrated approach to teaching, learning, and assessing. A comprehensive assessment strategy includes a range of formative and summative assessments valued by a wide audience and should:

  • Align with and inform standards, curriculum and instruction, and professional development;
  • Measure mastery of content and skills;
  • Appraise and monitor students’ ongoing learning and understanding of content and skills;
  • Provide a measure for program accountability; and
  • Provide useful and meaningful information to programs, instructors, students, and employers.

Implementing a comprehensive assessment strategy for employability skills starts with a collaborative planning process that includes instructors, program administrators, and, where appropriate, other stakeholders, such as employers and other education and workforce partners. A comprehensive assessment strategy may not be possible, or immediately needed; however, understanding the benefits of such an approach can ensure that the selected assessment aligns with broader state or program goals.