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Girls outperform boys in tech, engineering

Girls outperformed boys, on average, in the first test measuring technology and engineering literacy in the nation's schools.

The study of eighth-grade students, released this week, also found that many of those who live in rural and suburban areas outpaced their city-dwelling counterparts, according to findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an assessment of subject matter skills dubbed the Nation's Report Card.

The computerized test was completed in 2014 by a national sample of 21,500 students at 840 U.S. schools.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), part of the U.S. Department of Education, noted that the technology test (formally known as the Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment or TEL) was developed because of technology and engineering's growing importance in the educational landscape, and "to support America's ability to contribute to and compete in a global economy."

The inaugural study found that 43 percent of eighth-graders tested at a proficient level. But it also exposed an ongoing achievement gap found in other subject matter NAEP tests.

Just 18 percent of black students and 26 percent of Hispanic students posted proficient scores, while 56 percent of white and Asian students scored at the proficient level. Scores were ranked as basic, proficient and advanced.

Forty-one percent of girls scored proficient or advanced, compared to 38 percent of boys. School location also was a factor in success.

The report noted: "While students attending schools in city locations scored lower overall than their peers in other locations, Black, Hispanic and white students in city locations did not score significantly different from their racial/ethnic peers in suburban locations. Asian students in city locations scored lower than Asian students in suburban locations. Hispanic students in city schools scored lower than their peers in rural schools."

Of those students who received free and reduced-priced lunches, a benchmark for poverty, 25 percent scored proficient. Those for whom English is a second language scored just 5 percent proficient. Private school students significantly outperformed their public school peers, 60 percent proficient to 42 percent proficient, the test found.

Improved learning in science and technology continues to be of crucial importance to school districts around the nation as many strive to keep up with developments and find qualified teachers in STEM fields.

Earlier this month, the White House announced success in recruiting and training about 30,000 new STEM teachers since 2011, in an initiative aimed at raising that number to 100,000 by 2021.

That effort, supported by a nonprofit group of 280 educational partners called 100kin10, was created to stop a STEM teacher shortage nationwide and to help nurture changes in teaching that would allow schools to do a better job in these subjects.

In 2015, President Barack Obama announced a new $240-million program to help underserved students have better access to STEM learning. The funds were a part of his "Educate to Innovate" campaign, which the White House said "has resulted in over $1 billion in financial and in-kind support for STEM programs."

The engineering and technology (TEL) NAEP exam was the first time the U.S. Department of Education assessed students' literacy in this subject area.

According to the NCES, "more than testing students for their ability to 'do' engineering or produce technology, TEL was designed to gauge how well students can apply their understanding of technology principles to real-life situations."

Given online, the test measured students in three areas: Technology and Society, Design and Systems, and Information and Communication Technology.

In each of those areas, students had to apply certain types of thinking and reasoning: Understanding Technological Principles, Developing Solutions and Achieving Goals, and Communicating and Collaborating.