SAT for Digital Skills Draws Mixed Reviews

Published May 9, 2010

As employers increasingly seek candidates who can navigate, critically evaluate, and make sense of the wealth of information available through digital media, the Educational Testing Service, which administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test to college-bound students, and Certiport, a digital skills credentialing firm, are marketing a test to help employers determine whether incoming workers have these skills.

Developers say the iCritical Thinking Certification test reveals whether a person is able to combine technical skills, such as working with spreadsheets and e-mail, with with applied knowledge, such as drawing inferences and conclusions from data and putting them into coherent form.

‘Sounds Like Old-Fashioned Literacy’

But Paul Peterson, director of program education policy and governance at Harvard University and a prominent proponent of online and distance learning, is skeptical an SAT for digital literacy is possible or even desirable.

“This may be all well and good, but digital literacy sounds like old-fashioned literacy to me,” he said.

“As much as I favor exploring the world of virtual learning, I don’t believe it is a ‘subject’ but rather a tool to learn about such things as Tolstoy, World War I, and the internal workings of the frog,” he said.

Larry D. Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University-Dominguez Hills and author of Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn, says the idea for the test may be sound.

“On one hand, I applaud them for a good idea,” Rosen said. “My issue would be looking at the different kinds of [skills] they test.”

Valuable for Employers

The last two generations to enter the workforce are much more technically oriented than earlier generations, Rosen said. Most have been using the Internet for more than half of their lives. But some of these workers are more adept at using new technology than others.

“Anyone can surf the Internet,” Rosen explains. But the ability to search the Internet and to do so effectively are two different things. For example, someone doing a simple, superficial surf of the Internet might rely on Wikipedia as an authoritative source, whereas someone more adept with searching would go into scholarly articles and other online resources that cover more than just the first page of search engine hits.”

Rosen said knowing an applicant’s aptitude for such skills could be valuable for employers.

Looking Beyond Digital Skills

Lisa Snell, director of education and child welfare studies for the Reason Foundation in Los Angeles, notes if a school is hiring a digital expert, administrators assume the applicant would already be “wired” and could show some type of online aptitude.

“My 11-year-old already has some type of digital background,” Snell said. “But schools and other potential employers are going to look beyond that and into work experience and educational background.”

Snell agreed, however, such certification could be of value to large employers by helping them weed out candidates for jobs that require the special skills the new test would certify.

Phil Britt ([email protected]) writes from South Holland, Illinois.

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