Effective assessment is the logical outcome of any approach to teaching and learning, as it is critically important to measure the efficacy of instruction and adjust teaching when necessary. A new lineage of digital assessments takes fuller advantage of the medium, allowing such measurement to happen more quickly, more easily, and more deeply. As former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated in September 2010 when discussing the next generation of assessments,

The use of smarter technology in assessments will especially alter instruction in ways that teachers welcome. Technology enables the use of dynamic models in test questions. It makes it possible to assess students by asking them to design products or experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests, and record data. With the benefit of technology, assessment questions can incorporate audio and video. Problems can be situated in real-world environments, where students perform tasks or include multi-stage scenarios and extended essays.

The newest part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—the Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment—is such an assessment. As described in the video below, the Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment asks students to think more deeply about technology and engineering challenges by using computer simulations of technology and engineering problem-solving tasks set in a variety of real-world contexts.

Most importantly, it is an assessment aligned with a deeper learning approach, since students must “apply tools and techniques gleaned from core subjects to formulate and solve problems,” as identified in the deeper learning competencies.

During the winter of 2014, 21,500 eighth-grade students from 840 schools took the first Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment. The test questions assessed their knowledge of and skill in understanding technological principles, solving technology and engineering-related problems, and using technology to communicate and collaborate. But the assessment not only measured a new set of knowledge that NAEP had not measured previously. It measured that knowledge in a manner that was brand new to NAEP and reflected a deeper learning approach.

For example, as part of the assessment students helped a hypothetical museum build an online exhibit for middle school students about Chicago in the 1800s and the city’s water pollution problem at that time. The task is a great example of a deeper learning approach since its components use a variety of approaches to test student knowledge, demand analysis, and have students apply newly learned information to a new problem. In the task, students read a letter and several diary entries that chronicle Chicago’s fifty-year growth from a small town on Lake Michigan of 350 residents to the second largest city in the United States with crowds, pollution, and sickness that come from an unchecked growth in population. In another part of the assessment, students create a graphic organizer to show relationships between the new railroad system with its epicenter in Chicago and the pollution. Students view animations of the Chicago River and the path of pollution from it to Lake Michigan and match narration to animations (see the video below) of the development of a canal dug from Lake Michigan to the Des Plaines River to help alleviate the increasingly despoiled Chicago River. Finally, students learn and write about the relationship between an invasive and potentially devastating species of carp and its ability to get into Lake Michigan via the new canal.

The Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment continues on an important path that NAEP started when it was first administered during School Year 1969–70. “For over four decades NAEP, known as the Nation’s Report Card, has remained innovative, and the first-ever Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment is just the most recent example,” noted Bill Bushaw, executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP. “The assessment not only highlights better ways to assess student’s real-world problem-solving skills, but it also shines a spotlight on the need to provide students more opportunities to apply the principles of technology and engineering literacy—both in school and outside of school.”

Certainly, a deeper learning approach develops over months in a classroom, as students and their teacher cultivate a commitment to rigorous study, a deeply collaborative attitude, student ownership of learning, and application of knowledge to the real world. This new NAEP assessment, while taken during an hour’s time, provides a model for deeper learning that any teacher can build on.

For further information about the Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment, watch the Alliance’s webinar and review the assessment’s 2014 data.


Abner Oakes is director of outreach and strategic partnerships for the standards, assessment, and deeper learning team at the Alliance.