Given that the latest Australian ICT Literacy report relates to data collected in 2014, a sizeable chunk of the Year 10s involved will soon be entering the workforce, and some may have already joined the ranks of the employed.
The results show 52 per cent of Year 10 students achieved the proficient standard, with state and territory figures ranging from 43 per cent in the Northern Territory to 60 per cent in the Australian Capital Territory.
Apart from the fact that the national percentage is significantly lower than that recorded in all previous NAP – ICT Literacy testing cycles, what does it mean in terms of skills and competencies?
Rather than being a minimum benchmark, the standard challenges students to demonstrate more than just the basic skills expected for their year level (ACARA, 2013).
There are six proficiency levels in the NAP – ICT Literacy assessment. The proficiency standard for Year 10 is the boundary between Level 3 and Level 4. In other words, those performing at Level 4 and above meet or exceed it. So, what does the progression look like?
Students working at Level 3 can:
- generate simple search questions and select the best information source to meet a specific purpose;
- retrieve information from given electronic sources to answer specific, concrete questions;
- execute a range of information sourcing and editing commands independently (in response to clear task requirements); and
- are aware of potential misuse of ICT and some ways of protecting against misuse. (Fraillon et al, 2015)
In the latest testing cycle, one third of Year 10 students nationally performed at Level 3. What would push them to the next level (gaining the proficient standard)?
The report explains that an important difference between students at Level 3 and those working at Level 4 and above is the capacity to plan and execute a task, rather than just follow completion instructions. 'Students at higher levels also show awareness of audience and purpose in their planning and execution of communicative tasks.'
A student working at Level 4 can also recognise where misuse of ICT could happen and explain how to prevent it. To progress beyond Level 4, they need to be aware of communication conventions such as layout when completing tasks, and show 'more precise control of software tools and strategies when searching for, evaluating and communicating information'.
Just nine per cent of Year 10s performed at Level 5 - where it's not just about searching for information, creating and communicating information using ICT, but doing it in a targeted way in relation to the task and the audience. Level 6 (the report says 'almost no student at Year 10 nationally' performed at this level) is 'highly sophisticated and challenging' although previous testing cycles have shown it can be done.
'The efficiency and polish of work evidencing Level 6 achievement is obtained through careful planning and review with reference to the purpose of the work.'
To put this progression in context, it's worth looking at one of the tasks from the latest test. It related to a school art show, and included the creation of a school website page to promote the annual event. Students were given instructions and web design software. The task included components such as importing images and aligning text.
Web pages created by students at Level 4 typically had the following features:
- Specified relevant images were imported using the web design software features;
- Inserted images were aligned symmetrically and demonstrated balance with the web page layout;
- Text was copied from a document and pasted into the web page accurately;
- A background image was applied to the web page;
- Most web page elements were placed and aligned consistently with some overlapping or unusual gaps between elements. (Fraillon et al, 2015)
At the highest level (Levels 5 and 6) buttons connecting the pages of the website had been added, and they were in a clear position, matched the layout of other navigation buttons, and linked to pages specified in the design structure.
As well as giving examples of proficiency, the NAP – ICT report also discusses possible reasons for the decline in ICT literacy skills. One suggestion is that the increased use of mobile devices, such as smartphones, has put more emphasis on communication skills rather than more complex tasks such as webpage creation and data processing.
'It is also possible that there has been less emphasis placed in schools on the teaching of skills associated with ICT literacy, with the development of young people's ICT literacy competencies increasingly being taken for granted.'
As Emeritus Professor Steven Schwartz, Chair of ACARA (the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority), says in his foreword to the report: 'It appears that we cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction. They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills.'
Fraillon, J., Schulz, W., Gebhardt, E., & Ainley, J. (2015). National Assessment Program: ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014. ACARA http://research.acer.edu.au/ict_literacy/11
Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (2013). Measurement Framework for Schooling in Australia 2012. Sydney: ACARA. http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Measurement_Framework_for_Schooling_in_Australia_2012.pdf (265KB)
To read the full report National Assessment Program : ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014, click the link.