March 3, 2016

Can Testing Student Writing on Computers Widen the Achievement Gap?

A 2012 study by the U.S. Department of Education examined how elementary school students performed when writing versus typing their answers during online exams. The results, recently released in 2015, show mixed results along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The Hechinger Report summarized the timely findings of this federal study, which coincide with states’ release of student scores on computerized Common Core tests. Hechinger notes that in 2015, “more than half of U.S. states gave computer-based writing tests to children as young as third-graders.”

The study compared fourth-graders’ 2012 essays typed on a computer with 2010 handwritten tests given to the same age group. Findings showed that high-performing students fared well on the computer tests compared with pencil and paper. But for average and low-performing students, categories that tended to have more low-income, black, and Hispanic students, answers written with pencil and paper consisted of better-crafted sentences. The department’s working paper concluded, “[T]he use of the computer may have widened the writing achievement gap” in the 2012 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) computer-based writing pilot assessment.

To read more about the study, along with perspectives from academia on how schools can incorporate computers into the classroom as an aid, rather than a hindrance, to student achievement, visit The Hechinger Report here.