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NAEP: Students Who Use Computers More Frequently Score Higher (Part 2)

In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first large-scale computer-based assessment in writing. In a previous post, we shared that students who had greater access to technology in and out of school and had teachers that required its use for school assignments, used technology in more powerful ways to write and scored significantly higher on the NAEP writing achievement test. In this post, we explore select differences in student characteristics and experiences associated with performance on NAEP.

Comparing low-achieving students (e.g., students scoring below the 25th percentile) with high-achieving students (e.g., students scoring above the 75th percentile), a clear pattern emerges with respect to access to powerful uses of technology for academic purposes:

  • Students tend to perform better on tests of writing when they regularly use the computer to write for school assignments. Half (49%) of high-achieving 8th graders and over three-quarters (77%) of high-achieving 12th graders reported always using the computer to make changes on school assignments. This compares to only 15% of low-achieving 8th graders and 33% of low-achieving 12th graders. In fact, a mere 5% of high-achieving 8th graders report never using a computer to write for school assignments.
  • Low-income students are less likely to have opportunities to use the computer to write for school assignments. Half (51%) of 8th grade students not eligible for the national school lunch program very often, almost always, or always have teachers that assign the use computers for writing assignments compared to only 35% of low-income students eligible for the national school lunch program. In fact, one quarter (25%) of 8th grade low-income students eligible for the national school lunch program have teachers who report never or hardly ever assigning use of the computer to write for school assignments.
  • Low levels of parental education are associated with fewer opportunities to use the computer to write for school assignments. The association between level of parental education and the frequency with which 12th grade students use the computer for writing assignments is clear: 65% of 12th grade students whose parents graduated from college almost always or always have the opportunity to use computers to make changes to school writing assignments. This falls to 54% for students whose parents have some education after high school, to 46% for students whose parents only have a high school degree, to a mere 39% for students whose parents did not finish high school.

Clearly, NAEP suggests that computer use for instruction matters to student achievement in writing and that access to high-quality instruction involving computer use is unevenly distributed. Those most in need of support and intervention in public schools may in fact be least likely to be getting it. This is a very troubling finding and one that deserves significantly more attention at both the policy and practice levels as states and districts continue to transition to computer-based testing.

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