Assessment of students’ technological knowledge is a challenge for teachers. This stems not only from the inherent complexity of technological knowledge but also from the short history of technology education and its assessment practices. Furthermore, technological systems as a curriculum component is complex, under-developed and under-researched. The aim of this study is to investigate ‘qualities of knowledge’ about technological systems, by constructing and evaluating with students in secondary education a test instrument about water supply and sewerage. The test instrument was distributed to 32 students in a Swedish grade eight class (14-15 year olds), and data analysis was carried out using a qualitative, hermeneutic method. The findings show that the students’ qualities of knowledge regarding the overall structure of the systems was quite advanced, but the systems or the societal context were not elaborated upon with any detail. The purpose of the system could be connected to humans and society, but students did not offer a definition of the overall purpose. The flows that the students described were only of matter (water, wastewater) but not energy or information. The system boundary was also elusive, except for waste coming out of the sewer system and other environmental consequences. Thus, the test instrument “worked” in the sense that it was possible to gauge students’ qualities of knowledge, especially regarding system structure, but the validity might need to be improved with respect to some system aspects.
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