The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) stipulates that all students should be technologically literate by the end of the eighth grade. But how to assess technological literacy has proven to be a complex challenge for school leaders.

Organizations such as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) have created standards that define what it means for students to be tech literate and to exhibit so-called 21st-century skills. But “it’s one thing to have these standards,” explained Karen Cator, director of leadership for Apple Inc. “Now, we have to learn how to measure and assess these skills.”

Cator was speaking March 10 at an annual conference hosted by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). At a session titled “Assessing 8th Grade Technology Literacy: How Are Districts and States Meeting the Requirements of NCLB?,” school technology specialists heard from ed-tech leaders in West Virginia and North Carolina, who discussed how their states are trying to meet the challenge.

Each of the two states approaches the challenge differently. While North Carolina uses an actual test to determine whether students are proficient with technology, West Virginia is using the idea of embedded assessment to gauge students’ skills by looking at how they use technology in the context of the curriculum.

Brenda Williams, executive director of the West Virginia Department of Education’s office of technology, said she believes students first must acquire knowledge, then they must deepen that knowledge, and finally they must create new knowledge from what they have learned.

And it’s during this last step that students can demonstrate their understanding of not only the curriculum, but also the technology tools that facilitate the creation and sharing of knowledge, she said.

“In West Virginia, the foundation for good assessment is first providing comprehensive professional development to teachers and administrators,” said Williams.

Classroom content must be engaging and include opportunities for real-life problem solving, she said, but it also must provide active data that can be used to measure students’ understanding. And educators must be taught how to interpret these data.

West Virginia is one of a handful of states that have teamed up with P21 to redesign their standards and curriculum to foster the development of 21st-century skills. West Virginia has aligned these standards and curriculum with ISTE’s National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), a broad framework for what students should know about, and be able to do with, technology at various grade levels.