With its focus on testing for proficiency in reading, math, and now science, it’s easy to forget that the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) also says all students should be technology literate by the end of the eighth grade.

Lawmakers who drafted NCLB wanted to make sure that all students were exposed to computers and the internet and understood how to use these tools at an early age, so they would be prepared for a society and a workforce that are increasingly driven by technology. But unlike the law’s mandates in the core curriculum areas, there are no testing requirements or accountability measures when it comes to ensuring technology literacy. Instead, states merely must certify that they are working to meet the law’s tech-literacy goals before receiving federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) funds.

As a result, nearly four years after NCLB was first implemented, states appear to be all over the map in terms of ensuring the technology proficiency of their students, an informal investigation by eSchool News has learned. And the federal government does not currently track which states have taken which steps to meet the law’s goals.

The extent to which states are working to meet these goals is “definitely all over the board,” said Melinda George, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). “The way the law is written is that it’s a goal, not a requirement, although states are required to certify that they are working toward that goal.”

George said a big issue for states is whether to handle the tech literacy requirement at the state or district level. Most states are asking districts to define technology literacy for themselves and then confirm that their students are acquiring it, she said. But a growing number of states are implementing statewide assessments to measure students’ tech proficiency.

“The last time we asked our members about tech literacy was the spring of 2004, and at that time most states were asking their districts to document or provide proof that they were making progress [on technology literacy],” George said. “States [also] are continuing to explore statewide tech assessments, as is the case with Arizona and Hawaii.”

Although there is no single national standard for defining eighth-grade technology literacy, the most commonly accepted standard for tech literacy can be found in the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETS*S), produced by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

What makes the NETS so attractive, said Don Knezek, ISTE’s chief executive, is that the bulk of the standards address key technology skills as they are applied to important human skills–such as communicating, creating and publishing knowledge, working collaboratively, conducting research, developing creative works and self-expression, self-directed learning, making decisions and solving problems, and behaving responsibly and safely. These are technology standards, Knezek said, but more importantly, they are also standards for learning, communicating, and working in a digital world.

ISTE has developed its own formative online assessment to help schools gauge their students’ technology skills, and several companies–including Educational Testing Service (ETS), Certiport Inc., Learning.com, and K to the 8th Power–also offer technology literacy assessments.

Knezek said he believes all states feel a responsibility to produce tech-literate students, and all have some efforts in place. But “few have serious programs that include real student assessment and program evaluation,” he said.

The reason? “The high-stakes testing and AYP [Adequate Yearly Progress] requirements of NCLB have usurped the energy, attention, and resources of our school leaders and the education power structure at the state level,” Knezek said. “Because states are not required to report progress toward achieving this requirement, sparse resources are more enthusiastically focused on areas that impact AYP–which tech literacy does not [do] at this time.”

Arizona is one of the exceptions. The Arizona Department of Education is now using Learning.com’s Tech Literacy Assessment to test students in districts receiving EETT funds. Through a contract that also includes professional development and set-up fees, the state will administer pilot tests to at least 25,000 fifth- and eighth-graders by the end of June, targeting districts and charter schools that receive federal ed-tech grants.

“Our students are facing a much different workplace than the one we entered,” said Cathy Poplin, educational technology director for the state. “Technology has transformed business and increased the complexity of the workplace. Competition for skilled jobs today has increased greatly, and we need to help our students to become tech literate. Technology used properly in the classroom can engage and motivate student learning in a variety of ways.”

Poplin said several districts in her state administered technology assessments on their own, but Arizona didn’t collect the data from these assessments. Because Arizona is one of at least 12 states that rely solely on EETT money for educational technology, Poplin said, she strongly supported a statewide technology skills assessment.

EETT “is our main funding [source], and with it waning, I feel like we are going to have to make the case in our own state for a good funding stream,” she said.

A Learning.com representative said that state education departments in Texas, West Virginia, Alabama, Kentucky, and Florida are exploring similar testing services.

In November, the Hawaii Department of Education signed a contract with Certiport to implement a statewide Computer Literacy Certification System for all eighth graders. The test will be administered to 14,000 students per year.

“Hawaii is focused on producing school graduates that can compete effectively on the world economic stage,” said Patricia Hamamoto, Hawaii’s state superintendent. “This program provides validated, measurable outcomes that prove our students and teachers have the computer and internet skills needed to distinguish themselves and advance in school and in the workplace.”

Assessments will be administered prior to the test to determine students’ pre-existing computer skills. Then, students will use Certiport’s IC3 courseware to learn concepts such as computing fundamentals, key applications, and living online.

David Saedi, chief executive officer of Certiport, said the company’s technology assessment program is being used to some degree in all 50 states. He added that tech literacy awareness is on most states’ radar.

“About seven states are leading this whole charge, and the rest of the states are all focusing on some aspects like professional development with teachers,” said Saedi, who was en route to China to speak with 30 solution providers from the Asia-Pacific region on how to integrate technology into the classroom and how to make digital literacy a major focus.

“States like North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Utah are leading [the trend],” he said. “[Each move is] prompted by NCLB, obviously, because virtually every state has struggled with how to measure progress.”

Statewide tech-literacy assessments still are fairly rare. Most states that are actively working to meet the law’s goals leave it to individual districts to report their compliance.

Michigan, for instance, requires school districts to assess and report the percentage of eighth graders who are technology literate according to the Michigan Educational Technology Standards. Eighth graders’ technology literacy can be measured with teacher observations, student portfolios, formal assessments, and coursework completion, according to state officials.

Although the U.S. Department of Education (ED) requires states to certify that they are working to meet NCLB’s tech-literacy goals, it does not appear the department’s oversight extends much beyond that on the issue.

When asked what it is doing to ensure that states and school districts are meeting these goals, ED spokesman David Thomas noted that the department has provided assistance to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a public-private partnership among government, business, and education. The group has created a framework to define technological literacy and 21st-century skills and identify best practices for applying these skills in the classroom, among other resources.

But ED officials could not say what specific steps the various states were taking to ensure their students were technology-literate by the eighth grade. ED’s Thomas instead issued the following statement:

“The department is supportive of states’ efforts to meet, in ways that best address their unique needs, the goal in No Child Left Behind to ensure that every child is technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade. … The department [will] facilitate continued conversations among states on technology literacy and its measurement, but does not currently plan to make [or] promulgate uniform requirements.”

Links:

International Society for Technology in Education
http://www.iste.org

State Educational Technology Directors Association
http://www.setda.org

Learning.com
http://www.learning.com

Arizona Department of Education
http://www.ade.state.az.us

Certiport Inc.
http://www.certiport.com

Hawaii Department of Education
http://doe.k12.hi.us

K to the 8th Power
http://www.kto8.com

Partnership for 21st Century Skills
http://www.21stcenturyskills.org