Change the Equation Releases Exclusive Analysis of Survey Data from the First Nation’s Report Card on Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL)

Data suggest millions of 8th graders lack access to relevant, hands-on technology & engineering learning opportunities; Girls, minorities, and lower-income students have even less access

Today, Change the Equation released an exclusive analysis of student survey data from the first-ever Nation’s Report Card on Technology and Engineering Literacy (TEL). The key finding: American middle-schoolers have few opportunities to become literate in technology and engineering in the ways experts say are best: by asking and answering challenging questions about how the world works, by persevering and collaborating without a playbook, and by choosing the best tools to solve critical problems. As a result, millions of young people lack critical skills that are increasingly vital gatekeepers to the American dream.

Change the Equation’s brief, “Left to Chance: U.S. Middle Schoolers Lack in-Depth Experience with Technology and Engineering, focuses on the inadequacy of where, how, and from whom eighth-graders learn these critical technology and engineering skills, honing in on demographic data and offering insights into how to prepare more girls, minorities and low-income students for the workforce. The brief also offers strategies to cultivate widespread literacy in technology and engineering.

“There’s been a valuable ethos in this country about the importance of ‘reading, ’riting, and ‘rithmetic’ but our study makes it clear that we need to add relevance to that mix,” said Linda P. Rosen, CEO, Change the Equation. “Technology and engineering literacy is critical for all young people to lead successful lives and thrive in any career, regardless of field. In order to build that literacy, they must engage in activities that allow them to actually explore how technology and engineering are relevant to their everyday lives.”

Among other key findings of Left to Chance:

  1. Well less than half of the nation’s eighth-graders are on track to become proficient in a set of skills that they will need to thrive in life, let alone the workplace.  And they’re not getting enough of these opportunities in school:
    • Only 9 percent of eighth-graders say their schools place “a lot” of emphasis on learning how to troubleshoot. 
    • Only 26 percent say that they have “taken something apart in order to fix it or see how it works” at least three times in their school careers, and a full 43% say they have never done so.
    • And 85 percent of students said that people other than teachers (i.e., parents, family members or others) have taught them most about fixing and building things.                     
  2. When it comes to offering these valuable learning opportunities, the playing field is more uneven outside of schools than in them. More eighth graders engage in technology and engineering activities outside of school than during school, but they are also disproportionately white, higher-income, and male.
  3. Although digital technology abounds, students don’t leverage it for the right kind of learning.  Instead, they consume much more than they createEighth-graders report that they spend little time creating, editing, and organizing digital media. At best, only half of students have done so more than a few times a year.

In Left to Chance, Change the Equation offers recommendations for improving technology and engineering literacy among America’s youth. It starts with being more intentional about offering all kids – especially those who may not have access to parents or family members in technology or engineering - relevant, hands-on learning experiences.

Recommendations include:

  • Improve state standards and assessments. More states should include technology and engineering literacy in their academic standards for what students should know and be able to do in science. States must also create or adopt tests that measure students’ mastery of these skills.
  • Provide better curriculum, teaching materials and professional development opportunities for teachers. STEMworks, Change the Equation’s honor roll of rigorously-vetted STEM education programs and resources, includes powerful curriculum and teaching materials that feature real-world, open-ended tasks.
  • Give young people access to learning opportunities, better facilities and materials - both in and out of school. All young people need places where they can build, take apart, examine, test, fix and invent things. State and school district leaders should collaborate with partners such as business leaders who can donate used equipment or community leaders who can help transform public spaces in libraries or community centers into public workshops and makerspaces.
  • State and local communities should take advantage of existing federal resources.  For example, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) explicitly allows states to use federal resources to help carry out many of the above strategies. 

“It’s important that we continue to look at ways to get young people excited about STEM and its potential, and to help maintain their interest throughout their education,” said Sandra Evers-Manly, vice president, global corporate responsibility, Northrop Grumman, and president, the Northrop Grumman Foundation. “Hands-on activities and real-world exposure to the important role STEM plays in our lives are great complements to a robust STEM education.  Many of the STEM initiatives we support such as the Northrop Grumman Foundation Teacher’s Academy and ECO Classroom help teachers to bring real-world experiences into the classroom. Other initiatives such as CyberPatriot and VEX Robotics, and are fun and exciting and give young students direct interaction with problem solving, cybersecurity and robotic systems.” Northrop Grumman, which provided generous financial support for Left to Chance, is a Change the Equation member company and part of a coalition committed to promoting K-12 STEM learning.

Download a copy of Left to Chance here

Media Contact:

Bethany Hardy, on behalf of Change the Equation


About Change the Equation

Since 2010, Change the Equation has been championing the value of a good start through K-12 STEM education, as a means to build and inspire the next generation of America’s workforce. The CEO coalition works at the intersection of business and education to ensure that all students are STEM literate by collaborating with schools, communities, and states to adopt and implement excellent STEM policies and programs

About the TEL assessments

Administered by the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics in 2014, the Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment is a trailblazing computer-based examination measuring eighth-graders’ ability to apply practical technology and engineering problem solving skills to real-life scenarios.  The findings also contain a treasure-trove of information about U.S. students’ opportunities to gain these skills.

About Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation                                                                     

Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman foundation are committed to expanding and enhancing the pipeline of diverse, talented STEM students globally. They provide funding to sustainable STEM programs that span from preschool to high school and through collegiate levels, with a major emphasis on middle school students and teachers. In 2015, Northrop Grumman and the Northrop Grumman Foundation continued education outreach efforts by contributing more than $17 million to diverse STEM-related groups such as the Air Force Association (CyberPatriot), Conservation International (ECO Classroom), the REC Foundation (VEX Robotics), National Science Teachers Association and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering.  For more information, please visit



Documents & Links


There’s been a valuable ethos in this country about the importance of ‘reading, ’riting, and ‘rithmetic’ but our study makes it clear that we need to add relevance to that mix. Technology and engineering literacy is critical for all young people to lead successful lives and thrive in any career, regardless of field. In order to build that literacy, they must engage in activities that allow them to actually explore how technology and engineering are relevant to their everyday lives.
Linda P. Rosen, CEO, Change the Equation.