When It Comes to Technology and Engineering, National Report Card...


When It Comes to Technology and Engineering, National Report Card Confirms: Girls Rule

By Emily Tate Sullivan     Apr 30, 2019

When It Comes to Technology and Engineering, National Report Card Confirms: Girls Rule

With increased attention on technology-related subjects during the past few years, how are U.S. students actually faring? Pretty well, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

For only the second time in its 50-year history, the test has attempted to measure U.S. students’ grasp of technology and engineering concepts. And it’s good news: Students tested in 2018 showed improvements over those in 2014, the year the first NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL) assessment was administered. Out of a possible 300 points, students in 2018 scored an overall average of 152, compared with 150 in 2014.

NAEP TEL Results 2018
Between 2014 and 2018—the only two years the NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment has been administered—student scores improved by two points, from 150 to 152, out of a possible 300. (NCES)

Of the more than 15,000 eighth-grade students who participated in the assessment, which was administered on laptops in 600 public and private schools, about 46 percent performed at or above the “proficient” level. Five percent performed at the highest or “advanced” level, while 84 percent scored high enough to reach the “basic” level. All showed slight but statistically significant improvements over students in 2014.

One of the key findings from the assessment is that, despite the well-known existence of the gender gap in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, girls outperformed boys by a full five points—155 to 150.

That five-point margin is “a meaningful statement,” said Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of assessment at the National Center for Education Statistics, which oversees NAEP and is part of the U.S. Department of Education. Especially because that margin is reflected across five of the six content areas that students were tested on (in the sixth area, boys and girls scored the same).

The two categories in which girls outperform boys by the widest margin are communicating and collaborating (157 to 149) and information and communication technology (156 to 149). They were most similar on the design and systems questions.

“One of the things we discovered is that girls seem to be doing exceptionally well on content areas that relate to communication, information technology and collaborating,” Carr said during a recent call with reporters. “Maybe boys could do better if we could help them improve in this area.”

The assessment featured 15 scenario-based tasks, which incorporated video clips, audio, animation and text, as well as 77 discrete questions. In measuring knowledge and skills related to technology and engineering, the test covered subjects such as computer science, robotics, rocketry and mechanics.

From 2014 to 2018, the results did not indicate significant changes among white, black and Hispanic students, Carr said. However, Asian students achieved an overall score of 169, compared to 163 for white students.

NAEP TEL Results 2018 by Race/Ethnicity
NAEP TEL assessment results by race/ethnicity. Scores are out of a possible 300. (NCES)

In a survey questionnaire that accompanied the assessment, 57 percent of students answered that they have taken at least one course related to industrial technology, engineering or computers, compared with 52 percent in 2014.

“This is compelling,” Carr said, “because students who took at least one [related] course scored higher than those who did not.” Eight points higher (156 to 148), to be exact.

According to the survey, more boys take technology- and engineering-related courses than girls (61 percent to 53 percent, respectively), though both are taking more today than they were in 2014 (55 percent to 49 percent). Nevertheless, with or without that formal coursework, girls still manage to outpace their male classmates in these subjects overall.

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