New Perspectives for Learning - Briefing Paper 28

Developments towards problem solving assessment tools

Context of the Research

Substantial scientific improvements have been made in the field of student outcome indicators over the years. The focus of these studies has, however, been limited to the traditional assessment domains of Reading, Mathematics and Science. Due to rapid technological and social changes there is a growing demand for competencies beyond these traditional domains, such as problem solving, communication skills, and learning to learn. There is thus a widely acknowledged need for broader indicators and the ability to monitor these competencies that lie outside traditional domains.

This project developed a thematic network consisting of European expertise to specifically address cross-curricular competencies in the area of problem solving and tools for assessment. It has brought together a European body of knowledge about problem solving which is making a major contribution to worldwide initiatives like that of the OECD, in order to gain a better understanding of the processes of problem solving and how it may be assessed for comparative purposes.

Key Conclusions

The following key conclusions were reached: -

  1. From the societal as well as from the educational perspective, problem solving can be seen as a cross-curricular competence.

  2. However, scientific research into problem solving has until recently tended to be conducted from a psychological perspective with little attention being paid to the assessment of problem solving for large scale comparative purposes.

  3. Thus a gap has emerged between developing theory on thinking and problem solving and ways of measuring problem solving for assessment purposes.

  4. There now appears to be agreement that problem solving is a cognitive process with several stages for which a person uses their working, short term and long term memory.

  5. However, there is still debate on whether problem solving is a domain specific competence or a general competence.

  6. There is also debate on whether a problem for measuring problem solving should be simple or complex.

  7. Problem solving is a competence needed in daily life problem situations and needs to be measured.

  8. Instruments that measure problem solving, as a cross-curricular competence for large scale assessment are starting to emerge.

  9. But, instruments to measure problem solving still need to be modified or adapted for large scale comparative studies.

  10. Although, it has been found that assessment of more complex competencies, like problem solving, is feasible outside of a purely laboratory environment, and assessment of problem solving skills on a large-scale is possible.

  11. The use of technology raises new opportunities in the assessment of skills and competencies compared to current paper-pencil based methods.

  12. In fact, the dynamic aspects of problem solving cannot be grasped without technological support.

Key Recommendations

The following recommendations were made: -

  1. There is a need to develop new assessment tools that measure general problem solving competences.

  2. Further research should be conducted into technology-based assessment methods of problem solving including the use of simulations, video, computer networking and virtual reality.

Further Information

Full title of the project - “New Assessment Tools for Cross-Curricular- Competencies in the Domain of Problem Solving” with the final report completed in October 1999.

Full report, Partner details

Contact Person

Dr. Jean-Paul Reeff

Ministère de l'Education Nationale et de la Formation Professionelle
Service de Coordination de la Recherche et de l'Innovation Pédagogiques et Technologiques (SCRIPT)
Tel: +35 24785186
Fax: +35 24785198


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Last updated 28 June 2007