In addition to computer and information literacy, ICILS also measured a new, optional domain for the first time in 2018: computational thinking. Nine education systems, including the United States, tested computational thinking, which is the type of thinking used when programming a computer. It involves conceptualizing problems (through algorithmic or systems thinking) and operationalizing solutions (creating, implementing, and evaluating computer-based solutions to problems). The overall U.S. score for computational thinking was not measurably different from the ICILS average.
For computational thinking, the United States had larger percentages of students at both the highest and lowest performance levels (20 percent and 35 percent, respectively) compared to other participating education systems.
Students at the highest level demonstrated an understanding of computation as a problem-solving network, meaning they could evaluate and implement efficient solutions to complex coding problems using non-linear and conditional logic. Students at the lowest level, on the other hand, demonstrated a functional working knowledge of basic conventions of digital systems, such as simple coding and the relationship between input and output, but struggled to successfully demonstrate higher-level skills and understanding.
ICILS also asked students and teachers about their experiences using information and communications technologies (ICT).
Eighty-six percent of teachers “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that ICT was considered a priority for use in teaching at their schools, which was comparable with the ICILS average. Higher percentages of U.S. teachers than the ICILS average reported participating in professional learning ICT activities, such as training on subject-specific digital teaching and learning resources (70 percent compared with 50 percent).
However, just half of U.S. teachers reported using ICT when teaching, which was on par with the ICILS average. Students in education systems where a higher proportion of teachers reported using ICT in their teaching tended to outperform U.S. students overall in both computer and information literacy and computational thinking.
“The results of this study not only tell us that we can and must improve, they also help us better understand how to help students strengthen their digital capabilities,” says NCES Commissioner James L. Woodworth. “While the majority of American students are learning some key digital skills from their teachers, other critical skills are self-taught. Only 1 in 4 students can evaluate the reliability of information they find on a webpage and evaluate information that might be biased.”
Material from a press release was used in this report.
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