Arizona raising students’ technology literacy

Mention No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in any setting, and you’re certain to excite a lively conversation. It seems everyone has an opinion, reaction, or thought about the law’s effectiveness–and not all of these thoughts would be appropriate to say in polite company. For advocates of educational technology, however, one requirement of the law in particular has helped shine a spotlight on the importance of preparing students for the technology-driven world they live in and will work in: To assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student’s race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.

The Arizona Department of Education saw this clause in NCLB’s Title II, Part D, as a window of opportunity to add an accountability measure to the competitive grants we award through the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program.  In preparing for the 2005-06 round of competitive grants, we decided to require an assessment of fifth- and eighth-grade students’ technology literacy. We changed our grant proposal guidelines to set aside 2 percent of school systems’ grant monies to pay for this assessment. After issuing an RFP and reviewing our options, we awarded a contract to and its TechLiteracy Assessment, an online test of technology skills.

TechLiteracy Assessment measures students’ knowledge and skills in using technology tools such as spreadsheets, word processing, databases, search engines, multimedia, and presentation software. The first assessment was given in 52 districts to about 25,000 kids in the spring of 2006. The results established baseline data for our state. The feedback we received on this assessment was overwhelming. The exam not only provided data for our state reporting requirements; it also gave us invaluable information to help us better focus our grant-making efforts, and it gave local school and district leaders valuable insights into their own students’ needs, as each district received the data from its schools, classrooms, and students.

At the next meeting of all EETT grantees, we spent three hours looking at the data and determining the next steps for their projects. The results showed there was a need for additional professional development for teachers in the area of using spreadsheets and databases. The data also showed that our students did not understand how to do a Boolean search. What’s more, it was evident that fifth-grade students had more skills in creating multimedia presentations than eighth-grade students.