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Discussing the Nation’s Report Card for Engineering, Technology

May 18, 2016
If less than half of eighth graders are proficient in assessing “real-life” scenarios, imagine the percentage of future students that will become discouraged when trying to solve engineering problems at a University level.

In 2014, the National Assessment Governing Board tested over 21,500 eighth-grade students on their abilities to apply engineering, physics, and technology knowledge to solve standardized problems. The test was administered at over 800 public and private schools across the U.S. On a scale of 0-300, the overall average score was 150, and only 43% of students performed at or above the proficient level. The results were presented and discussed in a panel on May 17. Read more about the test results in this related article.

A 43% proficiency score seems low; if less than half of eighth graders are proficient in assessing “real-life” scenarios, imagine the percentage of kids that will become discouraged in the future when trying to solve engineering problems at a University level.

The test proves that we have more work to do in inspiring kids to careers in STEM, especially across minorities in race and ethnicity. (See results listed on the left.) The gap between peoples of different race and ethnicity is probably an effect of institutional racism that has been part of America’s entire history, affecting several generations of education and literacy. We need to get these groups up to speed.

The results also show a large gap in performance for kids with parents of different education levels. Therefore, it is imperative that STEM education is improved in school and that extracurricular activities are more readily offered to kids across all demographics. This way, we can sufficiently educate the current generation, despite the education level at home.

On the other hand, the test may not be the perfect tool for assessing kids’ technical problem solving skills. From what I can see in the sample question, the scenarios and problems are very wordy; I almost felt like I was taking a critical reading test. And while critical reading skills are important for pursuing a technical education, it is not what the test primarily measures. Meanwhile, students who are currently learning English only scored 5% at the Proficient level. 

After clicking through the sample scenario's written instructions, watching an animation about iguanas, and observing how an iguana behaves in its cage, I wondered: how long was this test? It would be helpful to know how kids performed when responding to different formats and which percentage of kids have learning disabilities.

Finally, there is a 20% gap in proficiency for TEL education in public and private schools. Since resources at public schools depend on the taxes and income of the district area, some public schools may be less adequately equipped for learning hands on skills, computer skills, and experimenting and testing, all of which are important ultimately when pursuing a degree in engineering, technology, and STEM. 

A webinar that took place yesterday, May 17, featured a panel to discuss the results. In addition, students were called upon to describe their reactions to taking the assessment. I have reached out to the National Assessment Governing Board to access the webinar for our readership. 

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