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Date:  Aug. 1, 2006
Contacts:  Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Michelle Strikowsky, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <>


Technological Literacy of U.S. Population Not Well-Assessed;
Additional Surveys Needed

WASHINGTON -- The federal government, state governments, and the private sector should develop tests and surveys to measure Americans' knowledge of technology, how they use it in their daily lives, and their ability to make informed decisions on issues involving technology, says a new report from the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council.  Data on technological literacy could allow policymakers to better respond to people's concerns about technology and help educators improve technology-related curricula and teachers' education.

"Given the increasing importance of technology in our society, it is vital that Americans be technologically literate," says Elsa Garmire, chair of the committee that wrote the report and Sydney E. Junkins Professor of Engineering, Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H.  "The general feeling is that people are poorly prepared to think critically about many important technological issues, but no one really knows the level of technological literacy among Americans."

In reviewing nearly 30 surveys and tests that include questions about technology, the committee found that none adequately assessed people's knowledge and use of technology.  Many of these surveys and tests -- particularly those aimed at adults -- determined participants' opinion or attitudes about technologies instead of their understanding of them. 

New surveys and tests should be developed or existing ones should be modified to better measure technological literacy.  The committee described how to assess three U.S. populations: K-12 students, K-12 teachers, and out-of-school adults.

To assess K-12 students, new studies should be conducted by the National Science Foundation, the report says.  In these studies, different subsets of students -- based on where they live, their socioeconomic status, and other factors -- would be asked what they have learned about technology both in and out of school, and how they would troubleshoot everyday problems involving technology. 

Questions about technology also should be added to existing tests that measure students' knowledge in mathematics, science, and history, the report says.  Such tests include the science, history, and mathematics portions of the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a survey that measures students' mathematics and science achievement worldwide.

The technological literacy of teachers could be assessed by following guidelines of the No Child Left Behind Act, which require teachers to demonstrate their level of knowledge in the subjects they teach through several means, including competency tests, the report says.  States should ensure that these tests include questions about technology for teachers of a broad range of subjects, including science, mathematics, history, and social studies.  To determine teachers' technological literacy at the national level, NSF and the U.S. Department of Education also should develop assessments based on sampling techniques.  Such assessments could improve teacher education programs around the country, the report says.

Existing surveys of adult literacy and skills could be used to assess adults who have finished school, but they should include additional questions about technology.  Examples of such surveys are the Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey, the General Social Survey, and the National Household Education Survey. 

To avoid disadvantaging particular groups, institutions designing assessments should take into account that people from different cultures and social backgrounds experience technology in different ways, the report says.  Also, assessments must be designed to allow individuals with mental or physical disabilities to participate in them.

The committee noted that computer-based technologies might be successfully applied to assessments of technological literacy.  For example, instead of surveying people over the phone or through written questionnaires, institutions could ask participants to solve problems through video games or other computer software – which could engage many individuals for longer times and at less cost, the report says.  The National Institute of Standards and Technology should convene a national meeting to discuss how computer-based surveys could be used to assess technological literacy. 

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation.  The National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science and technology advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.

Copies of Tech Tally: Approaches to Assessing Technological Literacy are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at  The cost of the report is $47.95 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy.  Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This news release and report are available at ]



Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Testing and Assessment
Committee on Assessing Technological Literacy in the United States

Elsa Garmire (chair)
Sydney E. Junkins Professor of Engineering
Thayer School of Engineering
Dartmouth College
Hanover, N.H.

Rodger Bybee
Executive Director
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rodney L. Custer
Department of Technology
Illinois State University

Martha N. Cyr
K-12 Outreach
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, Mass.

Marc J. De Vries
Assistant Professor
Eindhoven University of Technology
Eindhoven, Netherlands

William E. Dugger Jr.
Technology for All Americans Project
International Technology Education Association
Blacksburg, Va.

Arthur Eisenkraft
Distinguished Professor of Science Education
University of Massachusetts

J. Dexter Fletcher
Senior Research Staff
Institute for Defense Analyses
Alexandria, Va.

Alan J. Friedman
Director and CEO
New York Hall of Science

Richard Kimbell
Professor and Director
Technology Education Research Unit
Department of Design
Goldsmiths College
University of London
United Kingdom

José P. Mestre
Department of Physics
University of Illinois

Jon D. Miller
Professor and Director
Center for Biomedical Communications
Feinberg School of Medicine
Northwestern University

Susanna Hornig Priest
Director of Research
College of Mass Communications and Information Studies
University of South Carolina

Sharif Shakrani
Measurement of Quantitative Methods
College of Education
Michigan State University
East Lansing

John D. Stuart
Senior Vice President for Education and Global Partners
Parametric Technology Corp.
Needham, Mass.

Mary Yakimowski-Srebnick
Director of Assessment and Associate Professor
University of Connecticut


Greg Pearson
Study Director

Stuart Elliott
Director, Board on Testing and Assessment