Technology and engineering literacy requires not just that students know about technology but also that they are able to recognize the technologies around them, understand the complex relationship between technology and its effects on society, and use technological principles and tools to develop solutions to problems and meet goals. Consequently, NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy assessment items will measure students' technology and engineering literacy in the context of relevant societal issues, design problems, and school and community goals. As the three areas of technological literacy to be measured by NAEP tend to focus on somewhat different types of issues, problems, and goals, the contexts and situations that will frame the technology assessment items in these areas will differ somewhat as well.

Contexts in Technology and Society

The complex and multifaceted interactions between technology and society often manifest themselves in unexpected and unpredictable ways as new technologies are used in particular contexts or situations. A new technology may succeed in meeting the need that it was intended to meet and bring about far-reaching benefits, but it may also have negative, unintended consequences. For example, mobile communication devices have transformed business and personal interactions, yet a large number of traffic accidents have been blamed on drivers using these devices while operating their vehicles. Similarly, farming practices have increased crop production, but they have also risked contaminating sources of groundwater. Such issues can clearly be used as contexts for NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment items (as illustrated in ISTE's NETSS, the framework of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and ITEEA's Standards for Technology Literacy). The contexts for tasks and items in the area of Technology and Society may include such technologies with positive and negative effects and may also present ways that technology improves people's lives, such as water purification, sewage treatment, and medicine, or the various ways that people regularly interact with technology, from brushing teeth in the morning to crawling into a warm, comfortable bed at night. The following are examples of topics in the contexts of health, energy, and electronic communications that could be used to generate assessment tasks and items for sample targets in the 3 subareas of Technology and Society for grade 8:

  • Agriculture and health contexts: water as a scarce resource;
  • Energy context: wind turbines for homes; and
  • Electronic communications context: personal communication devices.

Table 3.5 Examples of how different contexts may be used to generate tasks and items for Technology and Society for grade 8

A. Interaction of Technology and Humans

B. Effects of Technology on the Natural World

C. Effects of Technology on the World of Information and Knowledge

D. Ethics, Equity, and Responsibility

Key Principles

Society drives technological change, while changing technologies in turn shape society.

Some technological decisions put environmental and economic concerns in competition with one another, while others have positive effects for both the economy and the environment.

Information technology is evolving rapidly, enabling ever-increasing amounts of information and data to be stored, managed, enhanced, analyzed, and accessed through a wide array of devices in various media formats.

Technology by itself is neither good nor bad, but its use may affect others.

Context: Agriculture and Health: Water as a Resource

What societal needs drove the changes made to a river's natural flow?

What issues need to be addressed to ensure that the water system stays healthy?

Find two reports describing alternative water purification methods.

How might the decision to divert water from the rivers affect farmers and small towns downstream?

Context: Energy: Wind Turbine

Describe the positive and negative impacts that residential wind turbines might have on society.

Compare and contrast the environmental and economic impacts of wind turbines with other potential sources of energy.

Compare the persuasiveness of two multimedia presentations on alternative wind turbine designs.

Describe a process for citizens to evaluate the effect that wind turbines might have on others in the community.

Context: Electronic Communication

What are the positive and negative effects that personal communication devices may have on traditional human communication?

Describe the effect of video evidence of environmental destruction on society's awareness of the global impact of pollution.

Describe ways that personal communication devices provide access to information and expertise.

What might the effect be of allowing personal communication devices to be used in school?


Contexts in Design and Systems

Nearly all of the products and processes in human society result from the development of one or more kinds of technology. Homes, factories, and farmhouses are built using construction technologies. Fruits and vegetables are grown and processed using agricultural technologies and are brought to market and to the dinner table with transportation technologies. Methods of extracting and using fuels to produce power involve energy and power technologies, and the tools and processes used by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are a part of medical technologies. Although these technologies can be classified in various ways, in order to provide guidance to item writers, this framework identifies the following technology areas that can be used as contexts to measure students' understanding of design and systems (drawn primarily from ITEEA, 2007):

  • Agricultural and related biotechnologies;
  • Construction technologies;
  • Energy and power technologies;
  • Information and communication technologies;
  • Materials and manufacturing;
  • Medical technologies; and
  • Transportation technologies.

The section on the next page presents potential scenario topics placed in contexts from the types of technologies listed above. The table illustrates how the topics in these contexts can be used to generate tasks and items in the four subareas of Design and Systems for grade 8. The scenarios would be simpler for grade 4 and more complex for grade 12.

Table 3.6 Examples of how different contexts may be used to generate tasks and items for Design and Systems for grade 8


A. Nature of Technology

B. Engineering Design

C. Systems Thinking

D. Maintenance and Troubleshooting

Key Principles

Scientists are concerned with what exists in nature; engineers modify natural materials to meet human needs and wants.

Requirements for a design challenge include the criteria for success, or goals to be achieved, and the constraints or limits that cannot be violated in a solution.

Systems may include subsystems and may interact with other systems. Systems may also be embedded within larger systems.

Tools and machines must undergo regular maintenance to ensure their proper functioning.

Context: Transportation

How have transportation methods changed over time?

Propose two ways to modify an intersection to make it safer.

What are the advantages of container cargo ships over other ways to transport goods to market?

What problems might occur if engines are not oiled periodically?

Context: Medical Technology

What were the technological advances that allowed medical researchers to develop vaccines?

Identify the requirements for a prosthetic arm that will enable a person to play tennis.

Name several elements of the nation's medical system and describe how they are related.

What procedures would you recommend for maintaining the school's first aid kits?

Context: Energy: Wind Turbine

What natural constraints exist in a city that might cause a homeowner to choose wind power over other "green" energy alternatives?

Compare the aesthetic qualities of the two types of wind turbines (vertical or horizontal).

Using the simulation model of a residential wind turbine, identify the goals, inputs, processes, outputs, and feedback and control features.

Using the simulation model of a residential wind turbine, describe which parts of the machine would require the most maintenance.

Context: Information and Communication Technologies

Trace the evolution of features on early cellphones compared with current smartphones.

Compare the trade-offs of functions available in two specific devices designed for a workplace or personal use.

Explain two ways in which personal communication devices can work together for a team to achieve its project goal.

Describe a set of troubleshooting steps that would be appropriate for analyzing a problem with a printer.

It is important to note that students are not expected to be familiar with the specific components and working details of any particular technology. For example, they will not be tested on their knowledge of genetic engineering, an important biotechnology, or on their understanding of energy and power or networking technologies. While these topics may be used to provide the context for test items, the information required for students to respond to the test questions will be provided in the scenario or background of the question. Students will be tested on the broad set of principles concerning design and systems and capabilities described in chapter two. However, one of the technologies from the list in the previous section has been chosen for more emphasis in the 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Framework, and that is Information and Communication Technology.

Contexts in Information and Communication Technology

In contrast to other types of technologies, students will be expected to be fluent in the use of information and communication technologies, as described in the tables in chapter two. The reason for this additional attention to ICT is that it is pervasive in society, and some level of technology and engineering literacy is required for virtually every profession, in every school subject, and in all walks of life. Furthermore, it is likely that literacy with information and communication technologies will become even more important in the decades ahead.

Because of the ubiquity of ICT, it is difficult to describe all of the particular contexts for items that NAEP will design to assess students' knowledge of it and their capabilities to put it to use. ICT knowledge and skills can be applied in the context of developing and using any of the technologies included in table 3.7, and it can be applied to any of the ways that technology interacts with society. ICT principles and tools should be a part of every person's set of capabilities in and out of school for solving problems or working to meet a goal. ICT tools have become integral supports for learning school subjects. People who are literate in technology and engineering should be able to select and use technological tools to research a period in history, compare cultures, collect and display data in a scientific investigation, develop a story or presentation, or produce a work of art. The types of scenarios used to assess students' knowledge and skills in this area will require that the item provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate their understanding of and capabilities to use ICT to address goals and problems in Technology and Society, in Design and Systems, and, more generally, in various disciplines, and in real-world, practical applications. The following table illustrates how topics set in different contexts can be used to generate tasks and items for targets in the five subareas of ICT.

Table 3.7 Examples of how different contexts may be used to generate tasks and items for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for grade 8


A. Construction and Exchange of Ideas and Solutions

B. Information Research

C. Investigation of Academic and Real-World Problems

D. Acknowledgement of Ideas and Information

E. Selection and Use of Digital Tools

Key Principles

Digital tools offer many options for formal and nonformal expression in nearly every academic and professional discipline.

Important strategies for ensuring quality of information include

1) assessing the source of information

2) using multiple sources to verify the information in question.

Digital tools can be very helpful in generating ideas and solving problems in academic subjects as well as in researching practical problems.

Fair use guidelines are designed to support the use of copyrighted materials for academic purposes and for journalism and other forms of writing and commentary.

A fundamental aspect of technological literacy is the possession of foundational ICT skills in the use of common productivity tools.

Context: Practical Applications: Local Community Action

Web pages have been created to persuade people to move to your community. Use a rubric to evaluate mock-up samples of Web pages, including the appropriate use of media to provide information to appropriate audiences and also the appropriate citation of sources.

Synthesize data from a variety of sources (census, local economy, demographics, industry, history) to show the availability of jobs in your town.

Watch an example video of a successful local campaign to declare a local building as a historic landmark. Answer a series of questions about the effectiveness of the video.

Review examples of media that could be used for a presentation at a local community meeting and then make decisions as to the appropriateness and legality of using them.

Using articles and simulated websites, create a media-rich presentation designed to persuade people to move to your city.

Context: Energy: Wind Turbine

Using information from the text and the provided slide-making tools, design a presentation that presents the positive and negative impacts of residential wind turbines to a group of homeowners.

Using the provided Internet search and slide-making tools, research and create a presentation comparing and contrasting the benefits of residential wind turbines with other "green" energy alternatives.

Using the simulation model and the available city data, determine which cities in the United States would be most appropriate for installing residential wind turbines. Be sure to use data from the simulation to support your conclusions.

Examine a set of slides and associated resources from a wind turbine manufacturer and determine how best to give appropriate credit for the information and images used in a presentation to promote residential wind turbines.

Using the information provided in the text, choose from the available digital tools and create a multimedia information packet to promote residential wind turbines.

Context: School Subject: Histor

Taking the role of a student during the Civil War, refer to examples from the online archives to compose a letter and photo essay describing the First Battle of Bull Run.

Conduct research in online libraries (for example, Library of Congress) synthesizing news accounts and pictures on the events and their impacts.

Working with online archives, compare the hardship endured by civilians during the First Battle of Bull Run and during the Battle of Gettysburg.

Develop credits and acknowledgements for your online sources.

Explain how the ICT tools you used contributed to a presentation on the Battle of Gettysburg.

The intent of placing technology and engineering literacy assessment tasks and items in a range of contexts is to ensure that students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and can do across many types of problems and situations. By sampling student knowledge and skills in a variety of contexts and practices, the assessment will provide a broad and deep picture of technology and engineering literacy proficiencies.