We live in a world that is, to a large extent, shaped by technology. Our computers and our smartphones: technology. Our automobiles and airplanes: technology. Our homes and offices, our food and clothing, our heating and cooling, our entertainment, our medical care: They are all created and driven by technology.

Likewise, many of the critical challenges that we face as a society, and that our young people will eventually need to address, have large technological components such as the quest to link experts throughout the world, the search for sustainable energy, dealing with global pandemics, and the development of environmentally friendly agriculture to feed a growing world population.

Despite its importance, however, technology has not been a focus of instruction and assessment in our educational system, particularly at the elementary and secondary levels. Some technologies are being integrated into humanities, social science, science, and mathematics classes as methods for supporting learning in these subjects. Technologies are also becoming subjects of study, with the goal of developing an understanding of the technologies themselves, their various roles, and the engineering design processes to address human needs and wants. However, there are no standardized, national assessments to provide evidence of what technologically literate K-12 students know about technology and engineering and the roles they play in our lives, or the extent to which students can use technologies and understand how engineers design and develop them.

Technology and engineering are increasingly being incorporated into school coursework, ranging from instruction on the use of computers and information technology within school subjects to classes that examine the role of technology in society, or courses that teach engineering design. Information communication technologies have become integral tools of the trade in academic, workplace, and practical contexts. Technology and engineering are essential components of contemporary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

Because of this growing importance of technology and engineering in the educational landscape, the National Assessment Governing Board decided that an assessment of technological literacy would be an important addition to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). For more than 35 years, NAEP has assessed achievement in a variety of key subjects by testing samples of students most often in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades. The results, commonly referred to as The Nation’s Report Card, have become an important source of information on what U.S. students know and are able to do in a range of subject areas.

The Governing Board sought a framework of technological literacy knowledge and skills that identifies the understandings and applications of technology principles that are important for all students. The framework focuses on "literacy" as the level of knowledge and competencies needed by all students and citizens. People who are literate about technology and engineering are not expected to "do" engineering or produce technology in the professional sense. Therefore, the framework is not intended to address technical knowledge of specific technologies or types of engineering expertise taught in specialized courses to prepare some students for postsecondary engineering studies. At grade 4, for example, all students can be expected to identify types of technologies in their world, design and test a simple model, explain how technologies can result in positive and negative effects, and use common technologies to achieve goals in school and their everyday life. By grade 12, for example, all students can be expected to select and use a variety of tools and media to conduct research, evaluate how well a solution meets specified criteria, and develop a plan to address a complex global issue.

The Governing Board chose the contractor WestEd to recommend a framework for this new assessment. WestEd in turn assembled a broad array of individuals and organizations to take part in the effort.

The resulting framework is the culmination of a long, complex process that drew on the contributions of thousands of individuals and organizations with expertise in the use of technology for learning, technology education, and engineering. Eighteen outreach meetings held over a 15-month period gathered feedback from professional organizations, practitioners, and the general public. Surveys documented comments on drafts of the framework.

As the framework was being developed, it became clear that the terms "technology," "engineering," "information communication technology," "21st-century skills," and "literacy" are defined and used in significantly different ways in formal and informal education, in standards, by professional organizations, and in legislation. Therefore, the framework development committees recommended a change of the framework title from "technological literacy" to "technology and engineering literacy" to encompass general literacy about the use, effects, and designing of technologies. The 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework is a statement about what should be expected of students in terms of their knowledge and skills with technology, written to be the basis for an assessment of technology and engineering literacy appropriate for all students. It opens the door to seeing what our K-12 students know about technology and engineering, in the same way that NAEP assesses their knowledge and capabilities in reading, mathematics, science, and other subjects.

This framework describes the assessment of technology and engineering literacy at grades 4, 8, and 12, although not all 3 grades will be included in the initial assessment. The 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment is planned as a probe. In the NAEP context, a probe is a smaller-scale, focused assessment on a timely topic that explores a particular question or issue and may be limited to particular grades.