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New Test of Tech Skill in the Works

The country will soon have a new way of measuring the technological know-how of its students, if federal testing officials' plans come to fruition.

The board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress is taking steps to create a test of technological literacy for students, which federal officials say will be the first-ever nationwide gauge of those skills.

The governing board has announced that it has made a preliminary move to create the tech test by awarding a $1.86 million contract to WestEd to develop a framework, or basic blueprint for the exam. The test will "define and measure students' knowledge and skills in understanding important technological tools," according to the National Assessment Governing Board, the independent entity that directs NAEP.

The idea is to have a plan in place by 2012. The board is still contemplating at which grade level it would be administered—4, 8, or 12, says a statement put out by the governing board.

Board officials say the Technological Literacy Assessment would be the country's first nationwide evaluation of student achievement in that area, though some states have created their own tests of those skills.

Several organizations are expected to help WestEd shape the test, including the Council of Chief State School Officers, the International Technology Education Association, the International Society for Technology in Education, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the State Educational Technology Directors Association, according to the governing board.

The board is also expected to hold public hearings on the test framework, which its officials would like to have in place by the end of 2009.

The No Child Left Behind Act set a goal that all students should become technologically literate, though there are no mandatory "accountability" provisions for states testing students in those skills, as there are in reading and math. Nonetheless, there have been efforts by private organizations and states to move forward with tech assessments, as Ed Week's Scott Cech reported earlier this year.

At the same time, federal officials have acknowledged the difficulty of creating computer-based assessments for NAEP. The exam, after all, has to be administered in different school districts with different kinds of computer software—systems that are sometimes outdated and incompatible with each other. Mark Schneider, the outgoing commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, summed up those obstacles very bluntly last year in a meeting with the governing board.

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