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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 www.ets.org/ictliteracy
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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?"
(www.pibmug.com/files/map_test.swf) 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?
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