Wednesday, June 27, 2007

8th Grade Technological Literacy?

I'm at the NECC (National Education Computing Conference) in Atlanta and just attended a panel on the NCLB requirement that all students be technologically literate by the end of 8th grade, the subject of my May Technology Toolkit column in Voices from the Middle. As I had fearfully expected, the panelists did not have any better answers for this requirement than I did. But it did make me consider more deeply the irony of mandating an evaluation of an undefined skill.

What is technological literacy?

I was most disappointed that the speaker from one state spoke glowingly about their assessment, a computer-based test in which students showed they could bold words in word processing, work with a spreadsheet and database, and send an email. This state, to my way of thinking, is confusing technological proficiency with technological literacy. And not even assessing the proficiencies very well, since these would be the basic skills we might have expected in 1995.

Another panelist, a chief state education officer, spoke of a more encouraging approach: they have used teacher technological literacy as a starting point and hope to use the student technology assessments to leverage more funding for technology in the future. However, the student assessments are still knowledge-based and one reason she gave for the importance of technologically literacy was that their state testing would be computer-based in the next few years so students will need to be able to use the technology.

I was most encouraged by the third panelist who represented Generation Yes, a company, which, ironically, had the most student-centered, literacy-based approach. It "began as a federal Technology Innovation Challenge Grant in the Olympia school district in Washington State in 1996. The vision was to include students in the effort to infuse technology into curriculum in every K-12 classroom." Including students in their own literacy? What a novel idea!

Now a question to you. How did your school or district assess the technology literacy of your 8th graders this year?