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NAEP Gets It One-Third Right

A new federally authorized test of students' technology literacy has little in sync with the tech curriculum schools are teaching.

Geoffrey H. FletcherWATCH OUT, tech directors. A train wreck is coming your way and you're sure to receive some collateral damage.

The mishap will result from a US Department of Education mandate that states must report "the percentage of students who meet state technology standards by the end of the eighth grade," according to guidelines the department issued in July, and a test the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is putting together to measure tech literacy. The problem? Namely, this:

With no established federal definition of technological literacy, most states have chosen to follow the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) established by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), and to create their curricula and assessments accordingly.

Now into the fray jumps NAEP. A respected organization authorized by Congress to conduct testing nationwide, NAEP is well down the path to developing a test for technological literacy. The organization released a draft of the test's framework that targets 2012 for the test's first administration.

However, the definition NAEP has developed is based on a barometer of technological literacy that is very different from anything any state or No Child Left Behind (NCLB) envisioned. From the draft document: "In recent decades the meaning of technological literacy has taken on three quite different… forms in the United States. These are the science, technology, and society approach, the technology education approach, and the information and communications technology approach. In recognition of the importance, educational value, and interdependence of these three approaches, this framework includes all three under its broad definition of technological literacy."

So the definition includes only one-third of what states believe Congress was looking for when it passed NCLB-- the ISTE standards built around the information and communications technology approach. The remaining two-thirds is either tested elsewhere-- science-- or covers technology education, which is not taught in elementary schools nor to many students at the secondary level.

When the results of the first NAEP exam are in, you will almost certainly have some explaining to do. You'll be asked why you spent all this money on technology and your students did so poorly on the test. Good luck arguing that your efforts focused on only one-third of what the test measures, or that NAEP got the definition wrong. In the coming weeks, visit www.thejournal.com for analysis of what triggered this oncoming train wreck, and how the efforts of many in the ed tech community have tried to prevent it.

--- Geoffrey H. Fletcher, Editorial Director

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).