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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Tech Literacy, the British Way: Assessing Students' Mastery of the Computer

Schools in England begin using a literacy test to gauge application of technical skills to everyday life.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia

The English government has tackled head-on the need to cultivate one essential twenty-first-century skill: computer literacy. This year, schools began using the ICT Literacy Test for students ages 11-14 to gauge not only their mastery of technical skills but also their readiness to apply these skills effectively in everyday life and work.

Far beyond the simple keyboarding tests of old, this exam challenges students to create presentations with text and images, manipulate databases, and write simple computer programming, among other skills. Basic techniques such as saving information, using email, and doing simple searches are included, too. The test, taken entirely on a computer, embeds these assignments in practical tasks, all done in the virtual town of Pepford.

Sue Walton, project director at England's National Assessment Agency, an arm of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), explains that the emphasis is on students "actually being asked to do things."

Click to enlarge picture

This ICT Literacy Test item asks students to write a program controlling the operation of a parking-garage gate.

Credit: Courtesy of UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

To begin, a student might receive an email from the director of the local visitor center assigning him to design a tourist brochure, or from the Pepford High School principal requesting that she assess the effectiveness of a recent campaign to promote eating fruit instead of candy. Then the student would use information, charts, photographs, and other resources available within the virtual Pepford world to solve the problem. Test makers designed a full set of generic software -- an email program, a Web browser, a database manager, and more -- to avoid endorsing any one commercial brand or favoring students who are already familiar with certain programs.


Click to enlarge picture

This item challenges students to use a database to assess the season ticket holders' program at WallyWood Theme Park.

Credit: Courtesy of UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

Students' responses are scored dynamically, meaning that the computer captures the process they use to answer a question. For instance, if the test asks pupils to use a database to figure how many musicians play rock music, they could do this simply by counting or by using the filter, sort, or query tools. The computer gives students credit for a right answer while also evaluating their process and producing an instant report on how basic or advanced their skills are.

By the end of 2008, a battery of fifteen- to thirty-minute tasks will be available to teachers on demand, anytime. The test is not mandatory, but it's free, and Walton expects most schools to use it to help tailor instruction.

Creating a test like this demands investment of time and money: All told, the QCA put about $46 million into this six-year project.

This article was updated on 4/08/08 to correct that the ICT literacy test is a program in England.
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

Comments (3)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Nick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The article is slightly misleading, as this isnt a UK wide initiative. Neither this test or the agencies named operate in Scotland, we do things differently!

Jack's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Could you please explain me the meaning of 'ICT'

Grace Rubenstein's picture
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia
Blogger 2014

Nick, thanks for the correction on the location. We've changed out the use of "U.K.," thanks to your input.

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