recent study pointed to a lack of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) role models for females, but it’s not slowing down females’ knowledge of technology and engineering. A national assessment of eighth graders’ technology and engineering literacy reveals female students outperformed their male peers.

Overall, female students scored three points higher than male students. They outperformed males in two out of the three content areas: information and communication technology, and technology and society.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released “The Nation’s Report Card: Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL),” the first national assessment using scenario-based tasks to gauge students’ understanding of technology in their lives.

“You assess science and you assess math–the S and M in STEM–but what about the T and E?” said Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board as the reasoning for this assessment.

The goal of the assessment was the answer the question, “Do students understand that the connection between technology and engineering affects everyone, every day?” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner for the National Center for Education Statistics.

The study revealed higher performing students were more likely to engage in technology and engineering activities in and out of school. Eighty-one percent studied in school how choices people make affect the environment. More than half (52 percent) of students reported taking a course related to technology or engineering.

“The scores clearly show that when students have opportunities to engage with technology and engineering, they become fluent in the skills that prepare them for living and working in the modern world,” said Tonya Matthews, president and CEO of the Michigan Science Center.

Of those higher performing students, 50 percent figured out, more than five times, outside of school why something is not working in order to fix it. And 63 percent reported that their family members most often taught them about building things, fixing things, or how things work.

“For the first time, we know what students can do in this particular area,” said Bushaw.

Students were tested in three areas: technology and society, design and systems, and information and communication technology.

They were presented with real-world scenarios on a computer in order to test their skills. However, Carr said, “It’s not about the computer that they’re going to take the assessment on, but it is about how they use technology.”

The assessment goes beyond 21st-century advances to determine student knowledge of the overall technology field. It used a cross-curricular approach to see if students learned technology and engineering skills outside of those specific courses.

“It’s about the entire scope of technology, how it has evolved and influenced our lives,” said Carr.

The assessment did show less than half (43 percent) of eighth grade students performed at or above the “proficient” level using technology and engineering skills to problem solve. When compared to their peers in town and city locations, students in suburban locations scored higher on the assessment.

“Access to these [technology and engineering] opportunities from place to place is patchy,” said Matthews. “That’s a call for communities to create opportunities where needed, from schools to science centers to after-school programming.”

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