Suburban Mom vs. Suburban Kid

Suburban Kid

Corrections or additions?

These articles were prepared for the February 22, 2006 issue of U.S. 1

Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Mind the Technology Gap

Social reformers used to worry about the "digital divide," the gap

between schools and communities that had easy access to technology and

those that did not. Now they need to worry about a different kind of

disparity – the proficiency gap. Just because classrooms and homes are

equipped with hardware does not mean that teachers and students know

how to use it and exploit it.

Educational Testing Service, which began testing college students six

decades ago, realized it needed to react to the dramatic change in

the way the world learns. And it saw an opportunity to add add a new

test to its formidable repertory. It came up with the Information and

Communication Technology test (ICT) for evaluating technical literacy.

The test is unusual because it measures how students use technology to

solve problems. A pilot program has just ended, and students will

begin to take the ICT in April.

The test "presents real-time, scenario-based tasks designed to be

highly engaging and valid," says a spokesperson. It consists of 14

four-minute tasks and one 15-minute task, and it takes 75 minutes to

complete. A demonstration of the ICT, which costs $33 to $35 and can

be taken only on computers, is available at

U.S. 1 Newspaper assigned two freelance writers, Euna Kwon Brossman

and Julianne Herts, to take the pilot version of the ICT and report on

the experience. Brossman graduated from college before technology

mattered and is a self-professed technophobe. Herts, on the other

hand, represents the exact profile of the student for whom the ICT was

written. She is a junior at West Windsor-Plainsboro South. Their

stories begin on the opposite page.

Work on the ICT began in 2001 when the Rosedale Road-based ETS

brought together an international panel of technology experts,

educators, business, and industry leaders to look at the notion of

technology literacy, defined as "the ability to use digital

technology, communication tools, and/or networks appropriately to

solve information problems in order to function in an information


ETS wanted to focus on the ability to use technology as a tool to

research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information. It also

wanted to include a fundamental understanding of the ethical and legal

issues surrounding the access and use of information.

`We recognized that over the last decade there was a growing digital

divide between schools that had access to technology and those that

did not, and some kids had an advantage or disadvantage," explains

Terry Egan. As project manager in the new product development area at

ETS, she has been working on the ICT project for the last two years.

"Now the issue has grown to be one of a proficiency divide. It’s not

enough to have the equipment. We need to provide professional

development to teach teachers how to use the technology effectively.

If we’re not teaching and measuring the right skills, we’re not using

technology to its fullest potential."

The seven charter clients that worked on the pilot program: California

Community College System, California State University System,

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of

Louisville, University of North Alabama, University of Texas System,

and the University of Washington. That panel of advisors later

expanded to include Arkansas State University, Bowling Green State

University, Miami Dade College, Oklahoma State University- College of

Education- DAC, Portland State University, Purdue University, and the

University of Memphis.

This group offered the first large scale literacy assessment in

January of last year. Students from more than 30 secondary and

post-secondary schools took the test but did not receive individual

scores. Their institutions did receive scores. "What the colleges and

universities wanted to do was to get a sense of where their kids stood

in relation to others who were tested," explains Egan.

"We learned that we wanted to focus on a new design for an individual

version of the test. Many who took the first test said it was too

long, at just a little over two hours. We have cut it back to 75

minutes," says Egan. The test initially targeted rising juniors in

college. "What we heard from colleges was that they wanted an

assessment of students as they began their college careers, students

transitioning from high school to college." ETS decided to move

forward with the two levels of the assessment and piloted the advanced

level in October and November of last year.

Now there are two versions of the ICT Literacy Assessment. The core

academic assessment targets students transitioning to college and is

appropriate for all high school seniors, community college students,

and freshmen and sophomores at four-year schools. It provides

administrators and faculty with an understanding of the cognitive and

technical proficiencies of a student doing entry-level coursework.

The advanced assessment targets students transitioning to upper-level

coursework and is appropriate for rising juniors at four-year schools.

The scores provide guidance for rising juniors and their teachers.

The core assessment pilot study, which ended February 17, was

administered to students in 27 to 30 schools, some near the end of

high school, others at the beginning of their college career."It was a

trial run," says Egan. "Students did not get individual results. We’re

using this pilot to work out the kinks and figure out problems,

including unexpected technical problems."

One obvious glitch, as the U.S. 1 reporters discovered, occurs when

the lab has not been configured according to the requirements of the

test. Says Egan: "It’s delivered with a secure browser so it’s

important that the labs be set up with all that software and it needs

to be downloaded in advance. If that’s not done, there will be

technical problems."

April is the first time the test takers will receive individual

scores.The core version of the assessment will be scored on a scale of

0 to 300, the advanced level from 400 to 700.

Egan does not see this test being required for college entrance as the

SAT is right now, but she does see schools using it for placement in

certain courses.

She also expects that there might be some differences in results based

on geography or socioeconomic levels, and ETS will be addressing those

issues. "We will compare various populations to see if there are

differences in performance. We’ll make sure that we included

representation from a variety of educational settings as we develop

the test to make sure we don’t disadvantage any populations. If

there’s a regionalism that makes something make sense in New York City

that wouldn’t make sense in Kansas, we would catch that."

Egan, who lives in New Brunswick, grew up outside Philadelphia as one

of 14 children. Her mother stayed home to raise them and her father

was a restaurant manager. She attended Archbishop Prendergast High

School, and pursued a degree in American Studies at Rutgers

University. She earned a masters at Rutgers in educational

administration, taught for 10 years in Philadelphia and New Brunswick,

and came to ETS in 1999 as part of a teacher team working on the

National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She worked on that

program for five years before moving into the new product development

group. Her husband, Joseph Egan, is a construction manager in

Morristown. They have four children, ranging from 19 to 32, who are

all very comfortable with technology.

Egan says she hopes the ICT Literacy Assessment will help prepare a

new generation of students face the challenges of the technology age

head-on, confident in using it to its maximum potential.

If students need to be tested on how to solve problems using

technology, so do teachers. The realization that teachers may need to

improve their own technical skills may be one of the most significant

outcomes of a test that demonstrates just how to integrate technology

into all subject areas. Apparently not all teachers know how to do


Says Egan: "When we demonstrate this test at the high school level, we

hear kids saying they want their teachers to take the test too."

Top Of Page
Suburban Mom vs. Suburban Kid

by Euna Kwon Brossman

I’m relieved to report that I should still be able to show my face in

public, instead of hiding at home, head-down in shame. I have just

taken the ICT Literacy Assessment. ICT stands for Information and

Communication Technology, and it’s the Educational Testing Service’s

new test aimed at assessing the technology skills of high school and

college students.

So how did I find myself in a room full of high school juniors and

seniors sitting down to take my first standardized test in almost

three (!) decades?

Blame it on my spirit of adventure or foolishness, or the persuasive

powers of the editor who told me about the new test aimed at finding

out just how savvy our students are about certain skills – graphing,

reading, and culling information. My assignment, should I choose to

accept, would be to take this test, and then write a first-person

account of my experience. Sure, I said breezily, sounds like fun.

I had been reading stories about how college freshmen were

academically spot on, but in certain basic life-skills they were

woefully unprepared. I leapt to the conclusion that the test was on

life skills. It was right up my alley. I would ace it and make a few

bucks along the way. The critical phrase that escaped me that day was

"technology test." Whoa.

In another corner of my writing life, my "Suburban Mom" column for the

West Windsor-Plainsboro News, U.S. 1’s sister publication, I have

recorded my technophobia. As the "Suburban Mom," I have discussed how

I should have been born in the era of the butter churn because I

understand how a butter churn works; how my husband and kids have to

turn on the elaborate theater room setup we have in the basement

because I can’t remember which buttons to push; and how I refuse to

text message because I fear carpal tunnel in my wrist or tendonitis

in my thumb and I believe God meant for the opposable thumb to be

used in other ways. If something doesn’t work or I can’t figure it

out, I am not ashamed to play the role of the


Later I realized with growing dismay that the test was not the test

I had thought would be taking. It was the dreaded technology test. I

would have to perform information management tasks – extract

information from a database and develop a chart. I might have to

download and install a (simulated) video player. Compare and contrast

information from the web into spreadsheet. Complete a concept map. A

concept map? What was that?

My horror grew when I realized they were putting me up against a high

school student who would take the same test. I found myself beginning

to cast around for a credible excuse to back out. Sorry, editor,

massive fever coming on. I’m flying out to Torino that day. There were

always the fallback scapegoats – the kids. Sorry, Tuesday won’t

work. The little one is wrapping up his science project and we think

he’s pretty close to finding a cure for cancer.

Backing out was unprofessional. I would find a face-saving device,

lest I bomb completely. My competitor should be male. If he performed

really well and I did not, I could blame it on gender differences, the

left brain, right brain thing. That brilliant plan was dashed when I

met Julianne Herts, a 16-year-old junior at West Windsor Plainsboro

High School South, news editor of the student newspaper, and a U.S. 1

intern. It turned out she was nervous about taking the test because

she was expected to do well, and so the pressure was on her.

Meanwhile, I was expected to fail. Well, I guess that made me feel

somewhat better.

The day before the test, ETS sent me these rules: 1.) The reporter

must take the test as a student, not a reporter. 2.) He/she cannot

identify himself/herself as a reporter until AFTER the test. 3.) No

cameras and no notes taken during the test. 4.) No reprinting

questions from the test in the article. 5.) No interviewing other

test takers during or prior to testing. After is fine.

By the time I got around to checking out the ICT section of the ETS

website, it was the morning of the test. In my defense, it had been an

unusually zany weekend that included the Princeton Cotillion, a Cub

Scout field trip, hockey, and the Super Bowl. Trolling the website, I

immediately saw good reason for panic. Mild panic, but panic


I called my friend Janet. Help! Do you know how you use an asterisk in

a Google search? I beseeched. No, she didn’t, but she figured it out

on the computer and walked me through it. You’ll be fine, she

reassured me. Remember: your strength will be in the interpretive part

of the exam, right? So if you can’t figure out the answer to some of

the technical questions skip them and move on to the questions

involving interpretation.

I called my friend Maria. Help! How do you use pluses and minuses and

quotation marks in a Google search? She did know the answers and

walked me through that, as well. Maria then related an anecdote about

teenagers using their I-Pods to cheat on tests, and teachers just

figuring it out. Ha! Cheating devices! The old stick of gum trick! The

writing-on-the-palm-of-hand trick!

Calmer thoughts prevailed. I had never stooped so low as to cheat and

I wasn’t about to start, even if it meant I was about to parade my

techno-ignorance in front of a good chunk of Central New Jersey. As I

left the house I thought I should sharpen some number 2 pencils and

bring them along. Then I remembered it was a technology test. No

pencils needed. Just the mouse, point and click.

I stopped by High School South to pick up Julianne (gracious

competitor that I am to give my rival a ride) and made our way to the

Mercer County Vo-Tech/Arthur R. Sypek Center on Bull Run Road in

Pennington off I-95, getting there promptly at noon.

We were greeted by Camille Rainiero, who runs the center’s vo-tech

program serving high school students all across Central New Jersey. We

sat down in a room with 22 computers and were joined by 20 other

students, high school juniors and seniors all taking the pilot.

Rainiero told us to login. That’s when we hit the first technical

glitch with the technology test. The system would not let everyone log

on. An IT specialist came in to work on the problem and after a

couple of minutes, some more students were able to logon, including

Julianne and me. The first section asked for background, name,

address, E-mail. The next section asked about our personal experience

with computers and technology. What kinds of courses had we taken

over the last couple of years? In my case, none! I figured my answer

might help me in the event the scores were reported on some weighted

scale. How confident are you about your ability to use the computer?

The choices ranged from very confident to not confident at all, and

my answers fell across the spectrum.

The next technical glitch occurred as we got to the meat of the test,

something Julianne and I both found supremely ironic. We had to

download and install before we started, but since we were logged on as

students with no authority to do so, we could not get into the test.

Three students were able to get in and start. The rest of us could


After some tinkering with the computers, Rainiero told us we would

have to come back the next day. The rest of the students filed out.

Julianne and I realized we could not come back the next day: it was

now or never. Ms. Rainiero got us in under a special login and

finally, after one full hour of battling the technical glitches, we

were in.

The first thing I noticed was the digital clock at the top left of the

screen ticking down the seconds. It took me back to the days when I

took standardized tests, watching the sweep of the second hand on the

classroom clock, listening for the teacher to give the go-ahead

countdown with stopwatch in hand, all to ensure fairness. The screen

told me the test would be made up of two sections, each with eight

tasks to complete. It told me how much time I had for each section so

I could budget my time wisely.

I glanced over at Julianne. She looked positively serene, calmly

clicking away. As I read the instructions, my heart started pounding

furiously. The test administrators were talking loudly, discussing the

technical problems, and as their words bounced off the walls, I felt

like there were tennis balls bouncing around in my brain. I realized

that Julianne wasn’t bothered by the background noise. No wonder. My

own 15-year-old loves to have the radio on in the background or listen

to the I-Pod as she works. She finds the ambient sounds soothing. I,

on the other hand, need absolute peace and quiet to think. I was

clearly already at a disadvantage here.

Unlike the standardized tests of my day, which were mostly multiple

choice, these were thinking problems. You had to read the scenario,

analyze the information, then click on your answers. I discovered the

navigation the hardest. I was afraid to click the mouse on the wrong

place and lose information, so I proceeded very slowly. I read the

question, then read it again, before moving on, worried that all the

information would vanish before I was ready. I was tentative and in

the beginning, I lost a lot of time because of it.

The words started to swim on the screen. I was passing the budgeted

time on the first question and it crossed my mind that I might not

finish the test. My task was to design an organization chart for a

biology professor and his teaching and lab assistants. The

instructions said I could use scrap paper so I drew out the org chart

by hand, then gave up and finished by using the tried and true method

of trial and error.

The second section went better. The computer part of it had a steep

learning curve for me, so I had already become much more efficient

about the process. There was still a lot of noise in the room and I

still found it difficult to concentrate. Julianne looked beatific,

radiant with purpose. I tried not to let that disconcert me.

Another task asked me to figure out magazine subscription trends using

a graph. I had to recall my old friends, the x and y axis, concepts I

hadn’t called on since high school. This section tested my ability to

make decisions about using and interpreting information. With relief,

I found it pretty friendly.

Many of the tasks tested my ability to zero in on important

information and weed out the non-essential, a skill I use all the time

in my writing. Other times I had to order information from most

important to least, or present it in the best and clearest light. I

had to prepare a slide presentation about a planet and organize word

files based on their content. I had to prepare a win-loss sheet for a

baseball team and determine what further games would need to be


I encountered another major technical glitch as I neared the end of

the first section. My computer froze. I was downright scared, thinking

all my work had been wiped out and I would have to start all over

again. Thankfully, when I was rebooted, I was able to pick up where I

left off. I finished the section just under the wire.

By contrast, I got to the very end of the second section with 11

minutes to spare on a 40 minute test. Familiarity with the navigation

sped up my time considerably. On the SAT, with that much time to

spare, I would have gone back to check on my work. On this test, once

you clicked NEXT, there was no going back.

As I drove Julianne back we compared notes. She said that at times

during the test, she had been bored. For me the test had been easier

than I had feared. Had I felt somewhat relieved? Yes. Bored? No.

Challenged? Yes. Not so much in the information itself, but in the

test taking process – trying to figure out which buttons to push,

which drop-downs to use, which file to click and drag, feeling like

if I made a mistake, Big Brother, the computer, would never blink,

and the clock would keep ticking away relentlessly.

I came away reminding myself to have my kids practice taking those

standardized tests over and over again, especially the SAT, before

taking it when it really counts. Test-taking is so much about comfort

level, knowing what to expect, and being able to budget your time


I’m glad I took the ICT. I do not know my score yet, but I have a

better sense of knowing what I don’t know, and what I need to do

about it, both for my children and for myself. If Julianne does way

better on that test than I do, bully for her, she should do better,

and that would make me happy. It would mean that our schools are

doing their jobs and teaching our children well. And whether that’s

in reading, writing, arithmetic, or technology, it means that our

future is in good hands.

Top Of Page
Suburban Kid

by Julianne Herts

I have to admit that when I was told I would be taking a technology

test, I was nervous. This is a pilot program; I could be the only

teenager taking it. Teenagers are said to be technology experts. I

didn’t want to let down my generation by messing up our claim to fame.

The pilot program has not been perfected. The software we needed to

take the test had not been installed on any of the computers, and the

people giving the test were obviously a bit confused. While the adults

waited patiently for the proctors to figure out what was going on,

many of the teenagers, myself included, began surfing the web. I

played the Internet quiz game "can you pass the third grade?"

( for about 20 minutes. Eventually

Euna Kwon Brossman, U.S. 1’s other reporter got in on the action, and

yes, with our combined IQs we were able to "pass the third grade."

Eventually the proctor logged Euna and me on and installed the

software for us.

I began to take the technology test, and was relieved to find it was

easy. The World Wide Web was invented when I was five. I could never

have made it to 11th grade if I didn’t have the skills required for

the test. Can you make a graph? Can you use Power Point? Can you IM

(instant message) a friend and use the information he or she gives

you? Of course I can. At West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South,

I’m tested in these areas every time a school project is assigned.

The test’s "internet" was actually easier to use than the real thing;

there was only so much you could do. Only one search engine was

available and only one graphing program. The instructions were also

very specific. Even things I’d never done before, such as select a

bank for my friend to get a loan from, were relatively easy. There

were only four banks to choose from and I had an E-mail with the exact

information I needed from every one of them.

The E-mail inbox had several messages, a few of which were not needed

for the test. Actually the test was otherwise pretty boring, so for

amusement’s sake they were needed. E-mails informed me that I had

purchased a pool table online and was expected to bring quiche to an

upcoming dinner party. In fact all the tasks had real world story

lines. I had apparently coached a baseball team and had to determine

which teams would play in the finals by looking at their statistics.

Also, I had to present information about a planet to a class of sixth


I read that some schools are now allowing kids to use Palm Pilots and

computers with Internet access during tests. The teachers reason that

nowadays it’s more important that one be able to find and use

information than it is for one to know it off hand.

It does seem a little ridiculous to make everyone so reliant on a

single web of information. That sounds like the premise of a sci-fi

movie, actually: If the Internet crashes no one will know anything,

and we’ll plunge back into the Dark Ages. Dwindling energy supplies

is a bigger worry; I don’t think society would fare so well in the

long run if electricity suddenly disappeared. I don’t know how to grow

crops, or knit, or cook a meal without an electric oven. So I don’t

worry about the Internet’s demise leading to the downfall of


But then I recall learning that a hundred years ago, kids would sit at

their school desks and recite facts for hours on end. They probably

would not consider the use of a calculator on the SAT, or the

performance of labs in science class, quality education. And how can

tests accurately assess one’s history knowledge when the student has

Internet access? This technology test seems like a good compromise; it

tests the ability to find and use information without combining that

skill with another.

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments