Assessment

Testing Tech Literacy

By Sean Cavanagh — March 06, 2009 2 min read

There’s a lot of debate these days about how to define “technology literacy,” but in a couple years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress will take the unusual step of testing students in those skills.

This week, the panel that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress heard an early report on how it is attempting to forge a working definition, in preparation for judging students’ tech literacy in 2012.

The National Assessment Governing Board, which sets policy for the NAEP, must first develop a framework, or basic blueprint for that test. The board has put together steering and planning committees to work on the project. Those panels include lots of familiar names in education and school technology fields, including Don Knezak of the International Society for Technology in Education, Mary Ann Wolf of the State Educational Technology Directors Association,Senta Raizen of WestEd, who’s co-chairing the committee, and many others.

On March 6, governing board member Alan Friedman, a science and museum consultant from New York who is working on the tech literacy test for NAGB, talked about how the board is going about that task. A prime challenge is developing a definition that will stand the test of time, Friedman said, so that the test is not outdated within a few years after it’s been unveiled.

Despite the name of the test, Friedman made it clear that goal of the NAEP tech literacy exam is not simply to test students’ familiarity with computer products or features, or digital games. The goal is to evaluate their understanding of “interconnections among technologies,” with technologies including processes from the designed world, he said. This could include not only computers but technology’s relationship to processes such as metallurgy (in the manufacture of buildings, or individual products) or woven textile technology (used to make clothes and fabrics). Of course, computer technology is essential to many manufacturing processes today, noted Friedman, who was joined by Raizen in his presentation. But the point is that students need to have a broader grasp of technology that takes them beyond their computer keyboard, if they’re to understand complex scientific issue today.

“We need to understand what all technologies have in common, and how they inter-relate,” Friedman told the board. It’s likely to be a major task, he suggested. “This project is working with probably more of a blank slate than any other framework we’ve developed.”

The governing board awarded a $1.86 million contact to WestEd last year to develop the framework and test specifications. The committees are expected to deliver a framework to the full governing board by November of this year.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.