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NAEP Offers ‘Real-Life’ Scenarios to Measure Tech, Engineering Literacy

Last month, the National Assessment Governing Board released its first-ever Nation’s Report Card for Technology and Engineering Literacy via a webcast from the Michigan Science Center. The event presented not only test results but also perspectives from educators and from a panel of students who had participated in the interactive, digital-based assessment, which was administered to more than 20,000 eighth-graders nationwide in 2014.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), commonly known as the “nation’s report card,” was developed in 1969 to measure how students in America compare with students of other countries in the areas of reading and math. Other subjects have been added over the years, and 2014 marked the first assessment targeting technology and engineering skills. The new test is also the first fully computer-based NAEP assessment.

In the new assessment, student solve virtual tasks based on real-life scenarios, such as fixing a pet iguana’s habitat and designing an online museum exhibit on how Chicago addressed its water pollution problem in the 1800s. Within these scenarios, students need to apply cross-curricular skills from history, technology, science, art, and English. The assessment also collected information from students about their opportunities related to technology and engineering learning, including course work, extracurricular use of digital media, engagement in building or fixing things at home, and more.

Brian Whiston, superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education, commented on the significance of this assessment to the future work force: “It’s nice to see an assessment that engages students in real-life scenarios,” he said. “There is such a demand for students with technology and engineering skills in the labor force, this gives a chance to work with these skills in an integrated fashion.”

Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, explained the demographics of the assessment takers and highlighted the results. Overall, girls slightly outperformed boys. Larger performance gaps appeared between different demographic groups, particularly by race socioeconomic status. The following charts show the percentage of test-takers in various groups scoring at or above proficient:

Student panelists from the University Prep Sciences and Math Middle School, which is connected to the Science Center, offered insights during the release event about their participation in the assessment. They said compared to other standardized tests, this assessment’s gaming-type platform was more engaging and interesting, which kept them motivated to complete the tasks instead of struggling to get through passages on a more traditional assessment. The students expressed hope that their teachers would model their lessons similarly to become more engaging and hands on.

“There are lots of ways to improve teaching and learning,” noted Scott Osterweil, designer of educational video games and creative director at Education at MIT. “One way is to relate current experiences that they are already having in their lives, including game play, to these processes. We never talk to kids and say science is like solving the problems you solve in games.”

Going forward, the board plans to reach students in fourth and 12th grades with similar assessments to be able to track skills progression throughout students’ educational career, as done in other NAEP subjects.

For more information, visit http://www.nationsreportcard.gov/tel_2014/.

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Abigail Mercadante

Media Relations Coordinator Intern